Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Mobile Operators Association (L 64)

Introduction

1. The Mobile Operators Association (MOA) represents the four UK mobile network operators – Everything Everywhere (Orange & T-Mobile), O2, Three, and Vodafone – on radio frequency (RF) health and safety, and related town planning issues associated with the use of mobile phone technology.

2. The MOA and its members are keen to ensure that the Bill’s provisions on the planning system are workable and improve that system, so that it reflects the needs and wishes of local communities, whilst also encouraging sustainable development and the provision of essential infrastructure.

3. In particular, the MOA is keen to ensure that neighbourhood planning works to its full potential. With that in mind, the MOA will seek to work with all stakeholders on assisting neighbourhood plan pilot areas in making the new system work.

Background

4. An efficient communications infrastructure is vital to the UK’s economic competitiveness, to the delivery of public services, and for social cohesion. Mobile telecommunications are an integral part of that infrastructure: there are now over 80 million mobile connections in the UK.

5. The Government’s Broadband Strategy, set out in ‘Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future’, and which expands on the earlier Digital Britain strategy, sets out a vision for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) has been created within BIS to support broadband accessibility and stimulate further private sector investment.  While the delivery of future mobile broadband is not dependent on access to BDUK funding, investment in mobile infrastructure is an essential component in the deliver y of the Government’s strategy for next generation of broadband networks. Over 4 million people now access broadband via a laptop and dongle, and over 12 million own a smart phone to access Internet and web based services.

6. The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, has recently identified development of the next generation of mobile services as a fundamental part of the Government’s broadband strategy. Ofcom’s Ed Richards has also indentified, in a speech on 24 th January 2011 to the Oxford Media Convention, the way in which mobile and fixed broadband networks complement, as well as compete with, each other.

7. Broadband aside, we now need to recogni s e that the mobile phone has evolved from being merely a convenience, or simply for social use. According to Ofcom, 14% of all UK households now rely solely on a mobile phone (compared to just 7% that are fixed-line only) and this rises to 26% in the DE socio-economic group. For them, their mobile is now a vital tool that lets them access a whole host of essential services, for example telephone banking, getting reminders for medical or dental appointments, or finding a job.

Neighbourhood Planning

8. Access to these essential services and delivering the Government’s digital ambitions can only be delivered if the planning system does not, through the revised regime, become a barrier to investment and to the development of essential infrastructure including mobile telecommunications infrastructure. The Neighbourhood planning regime potentially offers significant positive opportunities, but must not become a ‘NIMBY’S charter’

9. Clause 96 and Schedule 9 place restrictions on the contents of neighbourhood development orders. Our reading of the Bill is that a Neighbourhood Plan will need conformity with, inter alia: the National Planning Framework or other national guidance; local planning policies; EU law; national and international designations; and neighbouring neighbourhood plans. We believe that it would also be helpful to make explicit that neighbourhood plans should not constitute a barrier to the provision of essential services, including telecommunications.

10. MOA further believes that there should be an explicit presumption on the face of the Bill in favour of sustainable development. This would be consistent with the general approach set out the BIS White Paper – Local Growth: Realising Every Place’s Potential (Cm 7961) published in October 2010. Clause 90 already provides for a duty on local authorities to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development, but we believe an explicit presumption in favour of sustainable development would strengthen this. Mobile telecommunications aids sustainability by reducing the need to travel and therefore pressure on transport infrastructure.

11. The MOA welcomes the fact that the Bill still retains the primary role of democratically elected district and unitary councils in the planning of their areas. However, we are concerned that the full potential benefits of the neighbourhood and local planning system will not be achieved unless there is further clarity in the Bill regarding the relationship between local and neighbourhood plans.

12. The MOA believes that the primacy of the local plan must be explicit in the Act, rather than in secondary legislation, and would welcome the introduction of an amendment to introduce this. Such a provision would ensure that neighbourhood plans do not, either by design or by accident, undermine or contradict local plans, but rather complement them. Schedule 9 already provides that an examiner, in examining a neighbourhood plan, must ‘ consider’ in whether the plan or order is in general conformity with the strategic policies in the local development plan, but this safeguard needs to be strengthened.

13. The Bill already gives local plans a strong role in acting as the framework for neighbourhood plans. However, not all authorities yet have these local plans in place. The MOA believes that neighbourhood plans should not be introduced ahead of the introduction of the local plan.

14. The MOA believes that those undertaking a neighbourhood plan should have an explicit duty to consult within the neighbourhood area at a formative stage in the plan. Schedule 9 (paragraph 7) provides that local planning authorities should make a neighbourhood development plan if a referendum has been held and more than half of those voting are in favour. While this implies some local consultation, a more explicit duty to consult would be helpful to ensure full, informed debate. Legislation should also ensure that consultation on neighbourhood plans is undertaken with those parties, including developers and their representatives, affected by the proposed policy document.

Localism in Action

15. The MOA and its members welcome the engagement of local people in making decisions about the development that is undertaken in their neighbourhoods. Indeed, the mobile operators have, for more than a decade, had in place a system of engaging with local communities in advance of the submission of a planning application for a new telecommunications development. As set out in the Ten Commitments to Best Siting Practice (and the Codes of Best Practice on Mobile Phone Network Development in England and Wales), the operators have improved transparency of the process of building mobile networks, provided more information to the public on their proposed developments and have increased the role of the public in the siting of base stations.

February 2011