Although a very recent technological development, the mobile phone is considered a necessity by many people in the UK. However, despite their popularity, the communication masts on which the networks depend have been regarded, since their inception, as eyesores and, in the eyes of many, as health hazards.
As a result, proposals to site mobile phone masts often lead to disquiet on the part of those living or working in the surrounding areas.
A ground-based mast over 15 metres in height requires planning permission, but those attached to other structures or which are less than 15 metres in height require approval under the so-called ‘pre-approval’ system. Under this system, the network operator will apply to the local planning authority (LPA) for a decision as to whether pre-approval is required and, where appropriate, for a decision. The LPA has eight weeks to carry this out and to inform the applicant. If the LPA does not reply within the set period, then the network operator can proceed. The LPA is allowed to consider a variety of factors when deciding if permission should be granted. For example, the presence of nearby residential property and schools is a relevant factor. The LPA can require that a full application for planning permission is made.
Health concerns over masts that meet international standards on ionising radiation (and it is safe to say that all masts for which permission is sought will meet the standards) have not been accepted by the courts as a valid argument for denial of permission. Although the guidance on masts states that LPAs should consult with a school, when a mast is to be sited nearby, and take account of their views, the guidance as to what constitutes ‘near’ is not specific.
Perhaps oddly, a challenge on the basis of damage to the aesthetics of the area may well be more successful, especially if an alternative location can be suggested which does not create an environmental scar.
Moblie phone companies do have extensive rights of compulsory purchase - a fact which should be considered if you are thinking about granting a 'temporary' licence to one to place an aerial on your land.
The Growth and Infrastructure Act, which became law in 2013, contains provisions designed to make it easier to obtain planning permission for phone masts.