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BRIEFING NOTE: England changes planning system to enhance 4G and 5G coverage

Julia Lopez MP, Minister of State for Media, Data, and Digital Infrastructure and Stuart Andrew MP, Minister for State for Housing have set out plans to ensure that the English planning system supports the delivery of mobile infrastructure.

Why Is This Consultation Relevant?

We have become very familiar with the Government’s broadband ambition, to ensure that by 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

To realise this ambition, it the planning system needs to be able to support the deployment of new mobile infrastructure.

It is to this end that is the Government has been consulting on proposed changes to permitted development rights for electronic communications infrastructure in England based on the following guiding principles:

  • Ensuring that the proposals help to deliver the government’s commitment to extending mobile geographical coverage further across the UK.

  • Ensuring that all communities benefit from increased and enhanced coverage.

  • Increasing investor confidence in 5G and mobile infrastructure, providing greater certainty that incentivises investment in mobile infrastructure.

  • Encouraging maximum utilisation of existing sites and buildings, before new sites are developed, including enabling greater sharing of infrastructure.

  • Ensuring appropriate environmental protections are in place.

What Changes Have Been Made?

Following the consultation, the government has decided to take forward the following changes to permitted development rights in England:

1. Enabling deployment of radio equipment housing. Radio equipment cabinets smaller than 2.5 cubic meters can now be installed on protected land and without prior approval. It will also be easier to deploy equipment cabinets within compounds ensuring visual impacts are mitigated. Updated regulations and a new Code of Practice will ensure that the impacts of development are minimised.

2. Strengthening existing ground-based masts. The width of existing masts can be increased by two thirds for masts under a metre in width or by one-half or two metres (whichever is greatest) for existing masts more than one metre in width. The height of masts on protected land can be increased to 25 metres without the need for prior approval. Code Operators must minimise the visual impact of infrastructure, especially on Article 2(3) land.

3. Building-based masts. To promote the use of publci assets, building-based masts can be deployed in closer proximity to highways, subject to prior approval. Smaller masts (up to 6 metres in height above the tallest part of the building) can be installed on buildings without the need for prior approval. These changes will only apply on unprotected land.

4. New ground-based masts. To encourage greater rural coverage, it will be possible to deploy new taller ground-based masts – up to 25 metres in height and up to 30 metres on unprotected land subject to the prior approval of the local planning authority

5. Other changes. Changes to the procedure for notifying aerodromes, technical sites and defence assets will be made in addition to the definition of ‘small cell’ to make sure that this encompasses new and emerging types of small cell technology particularly to support 5G networks in city centres.

These changes will to the Town and Country Planning Order through secondary legislation, when parliamentary time allows.

A separate Code of Practice brings together the principles agreed between operators and local planning authorities, in relation to the siting and design of mobile infrastructure.

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