Select Committee on Trade and Industry Tenth Report


Telecoms masts planning regime

    (a)  It is not surprising that all concerned are thoroughly frustrated with the complexity and arbitrariness of the planning approval system which has grown up over the past 15 years as a result of repeated tinkering at the edges with the basic concept of permitted development rights. The system has created a possibly perverse incentive for masts just below 15 metres. It has left the public feeling powerless. It is unclear. Whatever is judged the best outcome from the latest review, there is much to be said for a moratorium on any further changes for a period of years. Urgent steps must now be taken to introduce some greater certainty and clarity into the planning regime for telecoms masts, so that the new regime is in place by the end of May 2001, a year after publication of the Stewart Report (paragraphs 18 and 31).

Stewart Report and planning

    (b)  The IEGMP should have had access to expertise in planning law and practice, once it became evident that it would be making detailed recommendations on the subject. The connection between the precautionary principle and its recommendations on planning law could have been more thought out. We remain to be convinced that this focus on changing the planning regime to be applied to telecoms developments represented the most useful way of dealing with the issues raised of public perceptions of a health risk and the inherent element of uncertainty (paragraph 26).

Diversity in the United Kingdom

    (c)  The operators would obviously have an easier life if everybody was singing from the same hymn-sheet. It is the nature of devolution that they are not necessarily going to have that situation. Any operator who discriminated against one part of the United Kingdom in rolling out a network because of the application of a more stringent planning system should expect to be called in by OFTEL (paragraph 36).

New regime: 16 March 2001 announcement

    (d)  In broad terms, base stations are now to be under the same regime in practice if not in name whatever their height, except that those under 15 metres will enjoy the benefit of permission by default within 8 weeks if the local authority does not object. It must be asked what purpose is served by retaining the prior approval regime if it is to be the same except in name to planning permission (paragraphs 37 and 39).

    (e)  While we cannot give the 16 March 2001 proposals an unqualified welcome, they do represent a neatly crafted compromise between the concerns of the operators that subjecting all base stations to full planning permission would cause undue delay, and the public sense that the prior approval system unduly favoured the operators over public interest, and allowed for insufficient public consultation (paragraph 40).

New regime: 56 day period

    (f)  We recommend that the 56 day period should be open to extension by agreement where such discussions likely to produce an outcome agreeable to all parties are in progress; and that the refusal of an operator of a request by the local authority for such an extension could be good grounds for refusal of prior approval. If the operator felt that the refusal of prior approval was unreasonable, then of course the operator would be free then as now to appeal (paragraph 41).

New regime: obligation to respond

    (g)   If prior approval is indeed to be planning permission in all but name, local planning authorities must be under an obligation to make some response to the notification submitted by an operator (paragraph 42).

New regime: incentive to share

    (h)  We see some virtue in bringing some applications for mast and site sharing, which might otherwise require full planning permission, within the marginally more "operator-favourable" prior approval regime (paragraph 43).

Future partnership

    (i)  A more constructive appraisal of alternative sites by all concerned would help. There is no reason to doubt that operators and local authorities can co-operate better and engage in dialogue rather than confrontation. But it would be foolish to imagine that a more constructive and professional relationship between councils and the operators and their agents will do much to allay local fears and local resistance to masts (paragraphs 46 and 48).

Community consultation

    (j)  It is essential that those closely affected by a possible development hear about it early, directly and accurately. That is the responsibility of operators at least as much as local authorities (paragraph 48).

    (k)  Changes in the planning regime fail to address the main problem, which is that objection to base stations comes not from local authorities but from individuals who suffer from loss of amenity or fear of ill-effects for themselves and their families. Unless it is clear that the planning system has a robust way of dealing with health fears expressed by people, the results of the changes will be yet more frustration (paragraph 49).

Health and Safety: existing installations

    (l)  Local planning authorities and local people need to be sure that all equipment already in operation is safe, as defined by its compliance with ICNIRP guidelines. We recommend a more proactive approach to publicising the results of the audits of schools undertaken so far, which have confirmed that levels of exposure are a tiny fraction of those in the latest and most stringent guidelines, and that the media be invited to record the process of audit (paragraphs 50 and 52).

Health and Safety: new installations

    (m)  There needs to be general confidence in the compliance of new installations with the guidelines. If a system of strong independent certification that a proposed base station met the guidelines on emissions were in place, the Government's repeated view, that it "should not be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an application, to consider the health aspects further", would be more persuasive (paragraph 53).

Health and Safety: minimum level

    (n)  Local authorities and those they represent are entitled to some assurance that RF fields are being kept as low as possible. We consider that operators should make a declaration that the RF fields likely to be produced by a new base station are as low as reasonably practicable, and that local authorities should be entitled to seek proof of this in some form to be established in the new Code of Practice (paragraph 56).

Planning and public anxiety

    (o)  We can see no case for local planning authorities to start investigating the extent to which fears are either real or justified. But the authorities do need some more explicit guidance as to what weight to give to such anxieties (paragraph 58).


    (p)  The guidance to be prepared and the new Code of Practice must be tested against the Human Rights Act, and should be certified by Ministers as being compliant. Operators should be prepared to demonstrate that a proposed installation is necessary in the proposed site (paragraph 63).

Site and mast sharing

    (q)  We welcome the commitment of the industry to introducing an agreed and comprehensible means of demonstrating the current degree of mast and site sharing. Local planning authorities are entitled to be given proof positive that mast or site sharing has been not only considered but discussed with potential partners (paragraphs 64 and 68).

Obstacles to sharing

    (r)  We recommend that the DETR and DTI together examine deregulatory and other means of freeing up a range of existing structures for use as a support for telecoms antennae (paragraph 69).

Sensitive sites

    (s)  The concentration on schools in siting policy is understandable, but in some ways misconceived. Children are everywhere. Guidance to local planning authorities on siting policy should emphasise early consultation not only with governors but explicitly with parents in schools and colleges likely to be affected. Guidance should also stress the identification of other sensitive sites where young children in particular are likely to spend a significant amount of time, such as day care centres, libraries, playgrounds etc. We recommend publication of outline site selection criteria to be established in partnership with the operators (paragraphs 72 and 73).


    (t)  It has taken longer than we might reasonably have expected to get a research programme going. We look forward to speedy dissemination of the results (paragraph 74).

Existing masts

    (u)  The precautionary principle cannot only cover new base stations; but nothing now being proposed addresses the future of existing base stations which are attracting hostility and suspicion beyond the random audit referred to above, which is apparently restricted to schools. We hope that operators might be more receptive than in the past to public concerns about specific masts. Where they are not able to resite them then they might consider a more proactive campaign of local information and consultation (paragraphs 75 and 76).

Industry Ombudsman

    (v)  The FEI might usefully consider, in their discussions with other stakeholders, the merits of an industry Ombudsman to act as a mediator in cases which have exhausted the normal procedures of appeals and judicial review, and especially in the handful of cases of existing masts which cause continuing controversy (paragraph 77).


    (w)  We welcome the evaluation of the TETRA system now underway and recommend that the results are made publicly available as soon as possible. Whilst we appreciate the importance of the system, we are very disturbed that there seems to have been no examination of the evidence on potentially adverse health effects before bringing it into service, and disregard for the conclusions of the Stewart Report published only two months after contract award, and drawing on over 20 years of research (paragraph 81).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 April 2001