Taller masts to ban­ish mo­bile blind spots

Min­is­ters lift height lim­its to bring bet­ter re­cep­tion and 5G cov­er­age to ru­ral ar­eas

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Charles Hy­mas HOME AF­FAIRS EDITOR

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.

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