Memorandum submitted by the Royal Town
SUBMISSION TO DETR CONSULTATION PAPER
The Institute welcomes this opportunity to comment
on the consultation paper published on 31 July by the Minister
for Housing and Planning.
We have consulted widely on the paper within
our membershipparticularly including the appropriate specialist
topic panels as well as our regional branches. Additionally, the
Institute has received numbers of representations on the issues
from members working in local authorities and in the telecommunications
industry. On consideration of these views, I am able to offer
the following observations.
1. The consultation document, including
as it does a draft revision of PPG8 "Telecommunications",
is a substantial one, which gets down to a considerable level
of detail. In all this, it is easy to forget the background to
the current concerns over the proliferation of telecommunications
equipment and lose track of the central issues. In the Institute's
view, these are:
the uncertainty over the potential
effects of telecommunications equipment on human health, and whether
it is appropriate, in the circumstances, to use the planning system
to address public health concerns; and
the consequent need to adopt the
precautionary principle in taking a view on new developments.
2. Alongside these issues, of course, are
the planning system's more traditional concerns with environmental
impact, and the need for some transparent and publicly acceptable
mechanism for appraisal of the environmental effects of what,
by their nature, are going to be highly visible developments,
often in areas with an intrinsically attractive environment. In
this context, it seems strange to the Institute that there was
no attempt to appraise the environmental implications of the third
generation of telecommunications licences before the Government
invited operators to enter into the bidding process.
3. Public concern about telecommunications
development when the first edition of PPG8 was published in 1988
focussed most significantly on the visual amenity aspects. Since
then there have been major technological advances, reducing the
size of equipment but also a dramatic increase in the number of
operators and the extent of their networks and hence in the quantity
of development. These considerations have however been overtaken
by much wider concerns about the possible health effects of mobile
phone technology. These concerns reflected fears particularly
about the possible effects of electromagnetic fields around base
stations and transmitters.
4. In September 1999, the House of Commons
Science and Technology Select Committee published its report on
"The Scientific Advisory System: Mobile Phones and Health".
The Institute read the report with interest and considered that
the planning system was not equipped to assess the health impact
of such installations individually. It was firmly of the view
that this is a matter that can only be done by Government, which
would then set clear guidance to the planning system. Simply whether
such equipment is safe or whether there should be safeguarding
arrangements around such equipment is a matter for which the Government
must have, and take, the responsibility to assess nationally.
It should not be left to the judgement and discretion of individual
5. Public scepticism about science in the
light of food and other experiences must also be recognised. This
is one of the reasons why the Institute had pressed consistently
for the Government to invest resources in independent research
into the health implications of telecommunications equipment.
It is clear that the precautionary principle must be based on
an assessment of risk, not simply fears and perceptions.
6. The Institute therefore welcomed the
Government asking the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB)
to set up the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP).
This Group published its report in May and the Government promptly
welcomed the report and accepted many of its recommendations and
particularly accepted the precautionary approaches advised by
7. Publication of the Stewart Report raised
public expectations that planning permission could and should
be refused for telecommunications equipment, simply on the precautionary
principle. Subsequently, on 29 June Nick Raynsford, the Minister
for Housing and Planning wrote to all council leaders in England
advising them of the impending new measures and guidance (the
current consultation). He particularly advised that local planning
authorities should continue to deal with planning applications
for telecommunications on the basis of the current list of arrangements
and policy guidance and considered that the decisions by some
authorities to propose a ban on mobile phone applications on health
grounds was wholly unjustified.
8. Much of the current consultation's revised
guidance is based on the Stewart Group's approach. Application
of the precautionary principle means that the safety of equipment
should be established before planning permission is granted. The
Institute has long been clear that this safety issue should be
addressed by Government and the Radio Communications Agencyand
that it is totally inappropriate for the planning system, or individual
local planning authorities to be the place for testing the safety
of equipment. Commenting, in February 1999, on a consultation
draft circular on "Land use planning and electromagnetic
fields (EMFs)", from the DETR and the Department of Health,
the Institute said:
"The potential dangers from the effects
of EMFs are a national problem. It should not be left to individual
LPAs to assess the risk, based on a WHO report. Clear guidance
is required to deal with the situation satisfactorily. Such guidance
can only come from the Departments of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions and Health. Sadly, in the Institute's view the
draft circular fails to fit the bill.".
9. The unsatisfactory situation is exacerbated
by the Institute's concerns about the way that the land use planning
system is expected to deal with applications for telecommunications
developments although as indicated previously, initially, these
concerns were on siting and visual amenity grounds. There are
substantial reservations about the concept of special permitted
development rights being available to statutory undertakers, of
any sort, when they are in a competitive situation. This is likely
to lead to a proliferation, and duplication, of facilities (something
which the Department appears to be anxious to avoidsee
paragraph 37 of the paper). The Institute considers that the prior
notification approach, in general, is unsatisfactory. Matters
should either be permitted development, or require specific planning
PART 1. INTRODUCTION
10. Paragraphs 2-3: The quoted sections
of the Stewart Report provide far from conclusive evidence on
the safety of equipment and installations, from a public health
viewpoint. This is not reassuring, underlines the need for the
adoption of the precautionary approach, and is immediately at
odds with the extent of "control" available to local
planning authorities through Part 24 of the Town and Country Planning
(General Permitted Development) Orderthe GPDO.
PART 3. BACKGROUND
11. Paragraph 10: A slightly cynical view
might regard this paragraph as instructive! The Institute would
not wish to belittle the importance of the telecommunications
industry to employment, business efficiency and the economy in
general. But the Government objective of "making the UK the
best place in the world to do business electronically" is
not an excuse to take shortcuts in addressing public health concerns,
assessing environmental impact, or denying proper consultation
through the planning process.
PART 4. CONSULTATION
Question 1: Do you think that greater public consultation
could be achieved within the current prior approval procedures,
or is it necessary to remove permitted development rights as recommended
by the Stewart Group? If the former, how could this be achieved?
12. The Institute can express a clear preference
for the removal of the prior approval procedures. It is also of
the view that the permitted development rights are inconsistent
with adequate public consultation. Paragraph 16 acknowledges that
present arrangements represent a major advantage to mobile 'phone
operatorsthey can "work to a definite timescale".
Other developers could make the same case, but this does not absolve
them, or the LPA, from the need to make considered decisions,
in the public interest.
13. Even if clear Government guidance were
available on the public health issues surrounding telecommunications
developments, there is now such a great public awareness of the
issues that proposals need to be handled transparently through
the normal process of determining planning applications. The main
problems with the prior notification approach are its low public
profile, compared with a planning application, and the shortage
of time28, or even 42 daysavailable for consultation
and the false impression it gives the public over the extent of
planning control available. If the latter were extended to a more
reasonable 56 days, to give the LPA time for the appropriate level
of consultation, much of the apparent time savings to operators
would be lost anyway.
Question 2: Do you agree that mobile phone operators
and other telecommunications code system operators should be treated
in the same way by planning procedures?
14. All applicants should be treated equally.
It is a basic principle of planning practice that it is the proposal
that counts, not the applicant. Attempting to distinguish between
macrocells, microcells and picocells, between proposals inside
rather than outside a building, and one class of applicant as
against another, will make an already complicated situation impossible,
especially for the public as consultee. The Institute proposes,
very strongly, that the standard interpretation of what constitutes
development should be applied, and the nature of the applicant
15. Telecommunications installations can
have considerable adverse impact on residential amenity, townscape
and the character of the countryside. The potential adverse effects
have to be considered fairly, alongside the social and economic
benefits of the development, and the LPA given the opportunity
to strike the right balance. Greater control will put LPAs in
a stronger position to encourage code operators to explore more
fully the ways of reducing the impact of their proposals.
Question 3: Do you think that the construction
and installation of any ground based telecommunications mast should
be subject to an application for planning permission?
16. The Institute is not persuaded by the
arguments in paragraph 32, and takes the view that all ground-based
masts, irrespective of height, should require specific planning
approval. Why should potential loss of profits to telecommunications
operators be considered any more seriously than to any other prospective
developer? The planning system is in place to serve the public
interest, and in the case of ground based masts we are talking
about environmental and amenity issues that have become the mainstay
of that system.
Question 4: Do you think that the alteration or
replacement of a ground-based mast already installed should be
permitted except where the alteration or replacement would result
in the mast being higher than the original mast? If so, where
a mast would be higher than the original mast, should its alteration
or replacement be permitted subject to prior approval, or should
an application for planning permission be required?
17. If any ground-based mast should be the
subject of a planning application, the same logic should be applied
to alterations, though this may well be qualified by reference
to a material change in appearance, or similar.
Question 5: Do you think that the construction
and installation of any telecommunications mast on a building
or other structure should be subject to an application for planning
18. Masts on buildings can have considerable
visual impact, dependent on size and style. Lattice style masts
have the greatest impact, and should be the subject of a planning
application. There is an argument that slimline, flagpole masts
may be permitted development dependent on size and number, but
this reintroduces complexity. On the other hand, permitted development
rights can be used to "encourage" the installation of
particular types of mast over those that require specific permission.
Question 6: Do you think that the alteration or
replacement of a mast on a building or other structure should
be permitted except where the alteration or replacement would
result in the mast being higher than the original mast; should
its alteration or replacement be permitted subject to prior approval,
or should an application for planning permission be required?
19. The same logic applies as with Question
Question 7: Do you think that the construction,
installation, alteration or replacement of radio equipment housing
with a volume in excess of 2.5 cubic metres, and of development
ancillary to radio equipment housing, when carried out in conjunction
with the construction, installation, alteration or replacement
of a mast, should be subject to the same planning requirements
as a mast?
20. Yes, because the 2.5 cubic metre threshold
is entirely arbitrary, and takes no account of the sensitivity
of the location. Even small installations can have an adverse
impact on the character of a building or area.
Question 9: Do you think that the installation,
alteration or replacement of a microcell which materially affects
the external appearance of the building should be treated in the
same way as an antenna in Part 24 of the GPDO?
21. Yes, there is a clear analogy with advertisements.
Both have the propensity to create "clutter" and detract
from the visual appearance of a building, and both should be controlled
in the interest of amenity.
Question 10: Do you want to propose any other
amendments to Part 24 of the GPDO?
22. If the prior notification system is
to be retained (notwithstanding the compelling reasons for abandoning
it), it should be made clear that the overall height of ancillary
apparatus (antennae, dishes, etc) acceptable as permitted development
should fall within the height of the associated mast, and not
the two to three metres over and above that which the code operators
appear to interpret as acceptable.
PART 6. DRAFT
23. The present PPG8 dates from December
1992. Updated guidance is clearly necessary, especially in view
of the rapid rate of growth and technological change in the telecommunications
industry. In this respect, the descriptive and explanatory material
in paragraphs 7-30 of the draft revised PPG is especially useful
24. The Institute is generally content with
the draft revision, on the assumption that paragraphs 36-62 will
be adjusted to reflect the Department's response to the answers
to the questions asked in Part 4 of this consultation.
25. The only reservation is about the practicality
of the advice on the handling of health concerns, and the application
of the precautionary principle. In a technical sense, the draft
PPG (paragraphs 63-81) represents a balanced, and transparent,
approach, given the Stewart Report's recommendations and the present
state of knowledge. Indeed, the draft acknowledges the important
role of the Department in addressing these issues (see paragraph
four, above). The problem remains the gap between public perception
and scientific certainty. In a practical sense, the "instruction"
in paragraph 81 that "local authorities should not implement
their own precautionary policies" is not especially helpful
where a local planning authority is faced with significant public
opposition to a proposal.
26. The Institute is far from convinced
that the Government's proposals satisfactorily address either
public concerns about the health implications of telecommunications
equipment or provide a clear way forward for the industry in making
planning applications. Rather they push the problem onto the plate
of local planning authorities and no doubt, in due course to the
Planning Inspectorate and back to the Secretary of State. This
will all happen at a time when the continued extension of the
second generation mobile system and the rolling out of the third
generation licences produce very large numbers of proposals and
little has been done to meet public concerns on the health impacts.
27. The Institute suggests that the issues
should be addressed by:
national type approval of the public
health safety of particular models of equipment. Only if that
was received could a planning application be made;
national advice on the safety implications
of siting, say, in relation to schools and possible safeguarding
zones around such equipment;
preparation of site selection criteria
for base stations and transmitters which would enable alternative
sites to be considered by the operator and local planning authority.
There is a precedent here with water waste treatment plants.
28. If such a system was in place it would
firmly place responsibility for public health at national level
with appropriate specialist advice and enable local authorities'
consideration to focus on the impact on visual amenity and the
assessment of alternative sites. Within this framework, the approach
set out in the consultation paper could be sensibly applied. Otherwise,
the likely outcome is widespread public concern leading to refusals
of planning permission on the precautionary principle approach.
29. The Institute recognises that there
will be some cost implications of this approach but the monies
for this would be a most appropriate first, but very small call,
on the receipts for the Exchequer from the auction of the third
2 November 2000