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Telecoms masts

Do all new masts need planning permission?

Not necessarily. 

The installation of telecoms infrastructure is normally considered ‘development’ and would therefore need planning permission. However, some smaller masts and minor upgrades to existing masts constitute ‘permitted development’ and can be installed on buildings or other structures without applying for planning permission, subject to specific limitations and conditions. Operators still need to notify the local authority if they intend to install such infrastructure into areas where they have not previously done so.  

For larger installations, an operator will either need to submit a notification for 'Prior Approval' or, depending on its height and location, apply for full planning permission. The relevant provisions are set out in Part 16 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

New ground-based masts under 30m: Prior approval 

Prior approval is normally required for new ground based masts up to 30m in height or 25m in protected areas such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Conservation Areas. 

The prior approval process does not assess whether a new mast is needed but allows local authorities to assess the impact of the proposed development on various factors, including siting and appearance. Local authorities have 56 days to determine whether prior approval should be granted or refused (and full planning permission required).

New ground-based masts over 30m: Full planning permission 

Planning permission is required for telecoms infrastructure that is not permitted development, i.e. new ground-based masts above 30 metres in height (or 25m in protected areas). There are exceptions and sometimes even shorter masts need planning permission for example, if they require a new access.  An operator can only go ahead once they have obtained planning permission. A local planning authority will determine planning applications in line with policies in their local plan unless any material considerations indicate otherwise. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will also be taken into account.

Are there any public health rules telecoms masts are required to meet?

The planning process for telecoms masts in England must consider potential health and safety implications related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) set guidelines on RF exposure limits to protect public health.

Applicants must provide evidence of compliance when submitting planning applications or prior approval applications. To do this they will usually submit an 'alternative sites assessment'. This will show how the least harmful site within a search area has been chosen, with supporting evidence.

Can I comment on a planning application or prior approval application for a new telecoms mast?

Yes. The local planning authority is required to consult the public on both planning applications and prior approval applications. Details of applications will be published on the local authority’s website. Site notices may also be displayed and/or neighbourhood notification letters sent.

Any responses must be made in writing within the consultation timescales. Only matters relevant to the application will be considered by the local authority. Responses to prior approval applications, for example, should focus on the siting and appearance of the proposed mast rather than the need for new infrastructure or other factors outside the scope of the application.

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