Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
A. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION RESPONSE
TO DETR TELECOMMUNICATIONS DEVELOPMENT CONSULTATION
1. The LGA consulted member authorities
for their views, and the attached response is based on the comments
2. The overwhelming response from local
authorities was that the current system is in need of reform.
The existing situation, which operates to the advantage of telecommunications
code systems operators, is biased towards the industry's interests,
and fails to take account of the local authorities' efforts and
obligations to protect and enhance the environment, protect public
health, and deal with public concerns over these issues.
3. Member authorities almost unanimously
stated that the current system of permitted development rights
coupled with the prior approval procedure is not working adequately.
It was described as complex, costly in time and money, inequitable
and not giving sufficient time for proper consultation. There
is no mechanism by which conditions can be attached to an approval,
and if amendments to the proposal are required there is not sufficient
time to allow for consultation/negotiation on these. The public
feel that mobile phone operators are getting "an easy ride",
as they may install large, potentially intrusive equipment without
the need for a planning application, whereas other developers
and members of the public would have to submit an application
should they wish to construct something of a similar size.
4. This has led to a growing lack of confidence
in the planning system. Implementing these recommendations would
go some way to redressing this lack of confidence, and make it
easier for local planning authorities to reassure the public when
concerns are raised.
5. On this basis, the LGA recommends that
permitted development rights are removed, and that all mast installations
are subject to a planning application. This would eliminate the
problems experienced in the prior approval procedure, bring telecommunications
operators in line with other forms of development, and increase
public confidence in the system.
6. We have some fundamental concerns over
the draft planning policy guidance contained in the consultation
document, particularly relating to the management of health issues
in relation to telecommunications development.
(a) Should health issues fall under the remit
of the planning system at all?
We feel that health issues should not form part
of the responsibilities of planning authorities.
The current draft of the guidance is ambiguous
on this point, and for that reason a great deal of the burden
of managing the system will by default fall on the LPA in the
absence of any other clear direction. Planning authorities are
advised that as long as the operator submits a statement confirming
that the proposed development complies with the ICNIRP guidelines,
they should not consider health matters further, yet it also states
that health can be a material consideration when determining a
planning application. If that is the case, then planning authorities
ought to be able to refuse permission on health grounds, and yet
are informed by the guidance that they may not do so, nor introduce
a moratorium on telecommunications development.
This confusing situation will do nothing to
allay the fears of the public, nor improve confidence in the planning
system. We believe that health issues should form part of the
operators' contractual obligations, and should therefore be incorporated
into the licences they are granted by the DTI. Emission levels
need to be monitored by an independent scrutiny body if the public
is to have any faith in itmerely asking the operator to
confirm compliance is just asking them to "trust the operator"
without any independent monitoring.
In addition, the associated costs and resource
implications of managing this system will also fall on LPAs, which
are ill-equipped to deal with health matters. An unrealistic expectation
will be raised which the LPA will not, and should not be expected
If health issues are in fact to remain within
the planning system, we recommend that one of the following elements
is incorporated into the guidance:
(a) that health authorities/health boards
are made statutory consultees; or
(b) that operators are required to apply
for and get a certificate from the NRPB in advance of making their
planning application, proving that their proposal does in fact
meet the ICNIRP guidelines (a similar procedure to that required
when installing a mast near an airport, where the certifying body
is the CAA).
(b) Precautionary approach
The LPA welcomed the Stewart Report's recommendation
that the precautionary approach be adopted, in the absence of
conclusive evidence on health effects of telecommunications equipment.
However, the Government does not seem to have implemented this
recommendation wholeheartedly, and therefore the aim of the recommendation
has been compromised. We would like to see:
time limited planning permissions,
to allow for review in the light of further research;
genuine powers for planning authorities
to take account of public concerns and refuse permissions, particularly
in sensitive sites.
(c) Pre-development discussions
The LGA welcomes the strong encouragement the
guidance gives to operators to participate in pre-application
discussions with LPAs and other interested parties. We feel that
this is a vital part of making telecommunications development
work effectively and of minimising objections and concerns. However,
we do feel that this part of the guidance could be strengthened
further by making it a requirement for these pre-application discussions
to take place. These would preferably be strategic discussions,
covering an operator's needs in a local authority area, and would
take place at an early stage in the process.
(d) Sensitive sites
We would like to see comprehensive definition
of the term "sensitive sites" included in the guidance.
(e) Human Rights Act
We do not feel that the implications of the
Human Rights Act have been adequately addressed in this draft
guidance. We would like to see a declaration from DETR that the
guidance will not create obvious circumstances where third parties
will have justifiable causes of complaint under the Act, leaving
the local authority vulnerable to litigation.
7. Detailed responses to the individual
questions in the consultation paper are attached at annex 1.