Forest of Dean District Council’s Approach
The Forest of Dean District Council (FoDDC) is the local planning authority responsible for making planning decisions on telecommunications (telecoms) equipment in the district.
What is Telecoms Equipment?
Radio base stations transmit and receive radio signals to and from mobile phones. Each base station comprises radio equipment that is housed in a cabinet and antennas (which can be mounted on masts, freestanding structures or on existing buildings and structures). The structures used to support the antennas vary in size and design, depending on such factors as the amount of equipment they need to support, their required height, and setting. The antennas often need to be at a minimum height, hence their location on rooftops or masts (e.g. lattice tower masts). Some smaller masts have been designed to be less intrusive for example, resembling lamp-posts, telegraph poles and trees. In some cases antennae can be attached to living trees so that a mast is not needed.
Policy framework The Government’s policy framework for telecommunications development is set out within NPPF
Environmental Considerations - The Forest of Dean
The area is acknowledged as having a special landscape and this places a particular onus on developers to minimise environmental impacts. Mobile phone infrastructure can be strongly intrusive, compromising otherwise uncluttered views and vistas and therefore having an urbanising effect on the rural scene. Some existing base stations have caused much dissent and the fact that more are needed demands a more careful approach than has been in evidence so far.
Mast and Site Sharing
Mast and site sharing is encouraged only where this will result in the least visual intrusion. The sharing of an existing mast usually requires it to be increased in height or structural capacity, which almost always increases its visibility and intrusiveness into the landscape. Therefore, the provision of two or more masts on the same site (co-location), utilising existing screening, may be less visually intrusive.
As far as possible, existing buildings and structures (such as electricity pylons) will be used for siting new antennas. The overview plan will enable us to work with the operators, to co-ordinate the siting of new development, and minimise the number of new sites in the District.
Siting and Appearance
The impact of any installation on the environment will be minimised through sympathetic design, camouflage and appropriate screening. Alternative designs, materials, colouring and siting will be explored, to ensure that any development has the least visual impact. The Government gives high priority to the protection of rural and urban areas covered by environmental or historical designations, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and listed buildings. The impact of telecommunications installations on these protected areas should, therefore, take into account advice provided in other planning policy guidance notes, to preserve their quality and character.
The Stewart Report
Following research by an independent group of experts into the possible health effects posed by mobile phones, and base stations, the Stewart Report concluded that:
- the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations, on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the guidelines. However,there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in some cases.
Types of Applications
There are two types of applications determined by the District council:
Prior Approval Applications
Certain telecommunications development does not require planning permission, being permitted under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended). For example, this includes masts less than 15m in height that are on the ground. However, this is conditional upon the operator making a prior approval application to the local planning authority. Such an application will allow the local planning authority to consider (strictly within 56 days) the siting and appearance only of the proposed development.
Full Planning Permission
Larger installations require an application for planning permission, and these will be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations (see section below) indicate otherwise. This includes masts within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or a Conservation Area. The usual time frame for planning applications apply (eight week target). Planning authorities should consider any technical constraints on the location and proposed development that may affect the operation or effectiveness of the equipment.
Pre-application discussions are encouraged with the local authority, and other organisations with an interest in the proposed development. The submission to the Council of each operator’s annual rollout plans for future developments, leads to the production of the overview plan. This means that any technical and environmental constraints, and alternative approaches, can be discussed at the earliest opportunity. The overview plan is available for viewing at the council offices, and comments on this can be made to the operators (contact details below).
Note that the onus is on the telecommunications operators to consult residential and amenity groups, prior to the submission of a planning application. The telecommunications operators have developed ten commitments to address community concerns, including, improved consultation with local residents about new developments. The amount and type of consultation will vary with each site, based on an evaluation system for assessing the sensitivity of any installation. This includes the proximity to residential properties and schools, and the impact on the environment. This is known as the ‘traffic light ratings model’. A green rating suggests there are few concerns, whereas a red rating highlights that there are several. Further information on this can be obtained by contacting the federation of the electronics industry or any of the operators (contact details below).
On receipt of an application
The council is obliged to deal with any application that is submitted. We are keen to give local residents, and amenity groups, the opportunity to express their views on any proposal. When the council receives an application for prior approval or full planning consent:
- the application will be listed in the weekly list of applications;
- the application details will be placed on this website
- we will consult the head of governors of any school and all neighbours within 100m of the application site;
- a site notice will be displayed;
- we will advertise in the local press, whenever the traffic light system shows red for a particular application, for sites over a certain size or affecting a public right of way, when the development may compromise important views and vistas, and whenever pure woodland may be damaged. These consultations exceed the statutory requirements.
How does the Council determine an application?
The decision on any application will be in accordance with government policy and advice (outlined above), taking into account environmental and other considerations. Relevant material considerations may include the impact of any installation on highway safety, and the protection of trees. The impact of such development on property values is not a matter for the planning system.
The Human Rights Act (2000) is taken into account in all decisions made by the Local Planning Authority, in particular Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Right to Respect For Private and Family Life) and Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (Protection of Property).
Whilst these rights are recognised, they are not absolute and do have limitations. One limitation is that the Articles are subject (so far as is necessary in a democratic society) to the interest of (for example) the economic well-being of the country, and the public interest. The Local Planning Authority must, therefore, balance respect for the individual’s family home and property with the economic well-being of the country and the public interest.
Further information on the subject can be found in Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development
Further Contact Points
Planning Department, Forest of Dean District Council: Queries relating to permitted development/planning applications: Development Management, tel: 01594 810000, email email@example.com
Department of health leaflet on mobile phones and base stations: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mobile-phone-base-stations-and-health
Planning Portal, planning policy and information on mobile phone base stations: www.planningportal.gov.uk
Office of Communications (OFCOM) (which has taken over the role of the radiocommunications agency): http://www.ofcom.org.uk/
Mobile operators association (MOA) (formerly federation of the electronics industry), Russell Square House, 10-12 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5EE, http://www.mobilemastinfo.com/ (includes details of the traffic light ratings model), tel: 020 7331 2015 or 2047, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The national radiological protection board (NRPB), the government’s statutory advisors on radiological protection matters: http://www.hpa.org.uk/radiation/ tel: 01235 831600
Federation of the electronics industry – www.intellectuk.org tel: 0207 331 2000