Easing restrictions on the maximum height that existing telecoms masts can be increased to will lead to a reduction in the number of masts needed for supporting mobile broadband services, an expert has said.
The Government is consulting on proposals to improve mobile connectivity in England [44-page 306KB PDF]. The plans include relaxing rules that currently require planning approval to be obtained when telecoms operators wish to expand the height of existing masts used for delivering mobile broadband services.
Under the plans, existing masts of up to 15 metres in height and built on land in 'non-protected areas', would be able to be increased to a total height of up to 20 metres and be expanded in width by up to a third without new planning permission being required. The expansion of the masts would be deemed a "permitted development" where there already was "prior approval for siting and design".
Real estate law specialist Suzanne Gill of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the changes "should comfort people who don't like looking at mobile phone masts".
"At the moment a mast up to 15m high can be built without planning permission in a non-protected area," Gill said. "A mast this high isn't tall enough for two operators to share, so each phone company needs to put up its own mast. The proposal is to change the limit to 20m - this will allow sharing, and reduce the number of different masts. Planning restrictions are a minefield for mobile phone operators and I'm sure they'll welcome simplification of them."
Gill said that the changes made sense because of the difficulty telecoms operators could encounter when trying to convince private landowners to allow their property to be used to host new masts.
The Government said that it expects demand for mobile capacity to increase "80 fold" by 2030. It said, though, that existing planning rules were "holding up the roll-out of services in many parts of the country".
"The proposed changes will speed up the regulatory process for mobile broadband infrastructure, while ensuring protected areas and others keep environmental safeguards already in place," the Government said in a statement. "The plans ensure the use and sharing of existing infrastructure is maximised, and installing new masts is avoided wherever possible."
Gill added: "Britons are vociferous adopters of new technology, as witnessed by the growth in tablet and smartphone ownership. We need broadband throughout the country to keep our international edge. It's great to see the Government recognise this."
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