LGA warns against relaxed planning permissions for mobile phone masts

The Local Government Association (LGA) is warning that relaxed planning permissions could allow mobile phone masts in excess of 50ft to be built in beauty spots and historic locations.

According the the LGA, the government is currently considering relaxing planning rules to make it easier for operators to install taller phone masts in coverage black-spots without the need for planning permission.

The association has warned that this could leave local residents powerless to object, with councils unable to intervene.

These changes are designed to make it easier for masts to be erected in areas with poor coverage and come as the government’s three-year Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) ends this month. The MIP has so far built just 28 masts, after previously considering 600 sites, and has only spent £11.55 million of its £150 million budget since 2012.

The LGA claims that rural areas need access to 21st century technology, but argues that the installation of masts should be left up to councils, who can consult with local residents.

It said that nine in 10 planning applications are approved, claiming that this shows that the planning process is not a barrier to development. Instead of more relaxed rules, the LGA believes that government should work with councils and communities to address coverage black-spots and identify the best locations for new masts.

Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA People and Places Board, said: "It would not be right for large phone companies to be able to build phone masts wherever they like. It is alarming that a phone mast more than the height of three double decker buses could be put up outside the front of someone's home without them having any say in the matter.

"Relaxing planning rules in this way risks mobile network operators being able to build huge masts in places where local residents and councils will have no say.

"Building mobile phone masts is not a straightforward process. Planning controls exist to give people the power over developments that impact on their quality of life, and they should be respected.

"It is vital that councils are able to work with network providers to ensure local areas get the best possible coverage in a way that residents are happy with."