Now Mobile Phone Companies want a Free Ride in Conservation Areas: Telegraph


Bosses at Vodafone, O₂, EE and Three met Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, to push for a shake-up of rules in the protected areas, including many parks, town squares and village greens. The companies want the rules relaxed so they can meet government targets for the introduction of super-fast 4G coverage.

The companies want urban conservation areas put on an equal footing with ordinary parts of towns or cities, so that the public only has 56 days to raise objections to masts up to 15 metres tall. The 56 days would start from the point at which a council announced the plans, for example by putting up notices.

Mobile operators are already allowed to erect masts in conservation areas, but there is no fixed time-frame for public consultation, and planning applications often take around a year. Often, they are only allowed to proceed if the mobile operators agree to conceal the masts, for example in flagpoles, lampposts or chimneys. The angel statue on top of Guildford cathedral in Surrey has mobile antenna hidden under its skirt.

The “Big Four” operators say the bureaucracy makes it hard for them to improve their networks fast enough to cope with the surging popularity of smartphones and the demand for internet access on the move. They told Miss Miller that they would not be able to meet the target of super-fast 4G mobile services reaching 98 per cent of the population unless planning laws are changed.

“They are basically holding the Government to ransom,” a senior source told The Daily Telegraph.

Even so, Miss Miller is considering relaxing the planning laws. A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “Government has been clear that we will work with mobile operators, local government and other interested parties to consider ways that the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure. We are currently considering a number of proposals.”

The changes “would give both communities and networks greater certainty about improving coverage and bringing in new services,” said a spokesman for the Mobile Operators Association, a trade body. “The network operators have a long track record of constructive engagement with local councils and communities and will continue to develop their networks responsibly within the planning system.”

Olaf Swantee, the chief executive of the biggest mobile operator, EE — formerly T-Mobile and Orange — which is due to launch Britain’s first 4G services next week, said planning laws needed to be relaxed to allow companies to make changes to their existing masts.

The mobile operators are not calling for changes to the rules on conservation areas that are protected because of their historic status or outstanding natural beauty.

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