Taller masts to banish mobile blind spots
Ministers lift height limits to bring better reception and 5G coverage to rural areas
BIGGER and taller phone masts are to be allowed across the UK as the Government sweeps away planning restrictions in a bid to banish mobile blind spots, largely in rural areas.
In an exclusive article for The Daily Telegraph, Nicky Morgan, the Culture Secretary, today announces changes to allow telecoms firms to build taller masts to deliver better mobile coverage and make it easier for all networks to share the infrastructure.
By permitting bigger and wider masts, which can bear more signalling equipment, the Government believes it will reduce the need to carpet Britain with thousands of new masts.
It has previously been estimated that an extra 400,000 masts could be needed to deliver the 5G network which will offer mobile speeds between 10 and 20 times faster than previous generations.
Ms Morgan accepts that her proposed changes could lead to complaints about “eyesore” masts in beauty spots and restricted sightlines in historic towns and villages.
She says this has to be balanced against the chance to create a network that ends black spots and closes “almost all partial not-spots”.
It is estimated that just 67 per cent of the UK has a consistent good signal. “Our countryside is sacrosanct so we must get the balance right,” says Ms Morgan, adding that one of her first acts as Culture Secretary has been to back a plan by the mobile phone firms to improve coverage by jointly investing in a network of shared masts.
This means phone users will be able to switch to whichever network provides the best signal wherever they are.
“To give such a proposal the best chance of success we need to make it easier for industry to build, share and upgrade mobile infrastructure,” she says in The Telegraph today.
“This means planning rules will be relaxed to enable existing groundbased masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mastsharing.”
Under the proposed planning changes, mobile phone networks will be allowed to build masts that are taller than the current maximum of 82ft (25m) on normal public land or over 65ft (20m) on land “protected” for its environmental, historical or cultural value.
They could also add more than a third to the width of a mast without the need for prior planning permission and deploy radio equipment housing on protected and unprotected land without prior approval. Sites of Special Scientific Interest would, however, be excluded.
Building-based masts would also be permitted nearer to roads to support
5G and increase mobile coverage. Announcing a two-month consultation, Ms Morgan says: “We want to know whether it would be appropriate through the planning process, to put more equipment on masts and make it easier to share them. This would give them greater reach, maximise the use of existing sites and minimise the need to build more infrastructure.
“People in rural towns and villages can rest assured that as we bring better mobile coverage to their homes and businesses, we are asking the right regulatory questions now to make sure we protect the environment but get the infrastructure we need to flourish in the future.”
Tim Bonner, the Countryside Alliance chief executive, said the lack of rural coverage was “scandalous” and not only put people’s safety at risk but restricted the ability to run businesses.
“In those areas where masts need to be extended, there will be an understanding among most people that this is necessary to deal with a fundamental problem that puts rural communities at a disadvantage,” he added.
Mark Bridgeman, of the Country Land and Business Association, said there needed to be a “balance” between the interests of landowners and mobile operators.
Meanwhile, Ms Morgan announces a £30 million competition for further rural trials of 5G technology which was already being tested to monitor fish farms and assist in deciding when best to milk and feed cows.