On the 14 March 2022, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2022[1] was laid before Parliament. The legislation gives effect to the Government’s response to their technical consultation which was published last year on changes to permitted development rights (“PD rights”) for electronic communications infrastructure. Their response can be found here. The technical consultation was covered in our previous Law Now, linked here.

The changes are aimed to extend and improve mobile coverage in order to benefit communities and businesses, and to support the Government’s mission that, by 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population. The Government hope that these changes will help ensure that the planning system effectively supports the required delivery of mobile infrastructure and addresses the disparities between rural and urban areas, an issue that was recognised by the Levelling Up White Paper[2].

The legislation amends Class A of Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the “GPDO”). The GPDO provides for the granting of certain classes of development without the requirement for a full planning application to be made. The changes made to the GPDO are summarised below. The Government has taken a measured approach in relation to Article 2(3) land (which includes Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, areas specified for the enhancement and protection of natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, the Broads, National Parks and World Heritage Sites) and sites of special scientific interest (“SSSI”). The changes relating to these areas are more limited in scale and subject to greater control.

The legislation also includes provision for new planning conditions to be included in Part 16 of the GPDO to provide added protection for more sensitive areas where development may not require prior approval. A new Code of Practice[3] for Wireless Network Development in England has also been published which provides updated guidance for all those involved in network deployment, and which has a stronger focus on the siting and design of wireless infrastructure and the process for engaging with local authorities and communities.

Where prior approval is required under the GPDO, the operator will not need to submit a full planning application to the Local Planning Authority (“LPA”) but will be required to submit an application for ‘prior approval’. This allows the LPA to consider the proposals, their likely impacts and how these can be mitigated. The principle of development is not an issue, and the LPA can only consider the siting and appearance of the proposal. Where the development exceeds the limits identified in the GPDO, full planning permission will be required, and operators will need to submit a planning application to the LPA in the ordinary manner.

Summary of Changes

Enabling deployment of radio equipment housing

  • Single developments of radio equipment housing up to 2.5 cubic metres in volume are permitted without prior approval (and greater volumes subject to prior approval) on Article 2(3) land. A single development means each unit of equipment housing, rather than all housing deployed at one time.

  • The volume limits on radio equipment housing where it is located in a compound are disapplied.

Strengthening existing ground-based masts

  • For existing ground-based masts less than a metre in width, the alteration or replacement of the mast with increases in width up to two-thirds is permitted without the need for prior approval in all areas. Greater increases in width are subject to prior approval.

  • For existing ground-based masts that are one metre or greater in width, the alteration or replacement of the mast with increases in width up to one-half or two metres (whichever is greater) is permitted without the need for prior approval in all areas. Greater increases in width are subject to prior approval.

  • The alteration or replacement of existing ground-based masts which increases the height up to 25 metres is permitted subject to prior approval on Article 2(3) land or land on a highway. Prior approval is not required outside of Article 2(3) land and land on or within SSSI. Greater increases in height up to 30 metres are subject to prior approval.

  • A new rule is introduced that provides that increases in height should be calculated by comparing width at the widest parts of the existing and new masts.

Building-based masts

  • On buildings which are less than 15 metres in height, the installation, alteration or replacement of building-based masts up to 10 metres in height above the tallest part of the building within 20 metres of the highway is permitted subject to prior approval.

  • The installation, alteration or replacement of building-based masts up to 6 metres in height above the tallest part of the building is permitted without the need for prior approval.

  • These changes will only apply on unprotected land i.e. land that is not Article 2(3) land or SSSI. The existing conditions which limit the height of masts and require visual impact to be minimised on buildings will continue to apply.

New ground-based masts

  • The installation of new ground-based masts up to 25 metres on Article 2(3) land or land on a highway, and up to 30 metres on all other land (except land on or within sites of SSSI), is permitted subject to prior approval.

  • All new masts that exceed these heights will require full planning permission.

  • The government have not taken forward the proposal to permit the deployment of monopole masts without the requirement for prior approval on unprotected land.

New planning conditions

  • New planning conditions are introduced into Part 16 of the GPDO. These will require Code Operators, when installing equipment, to minimise the visual impact of new development on the surrounding area as far as possible, particularly considering potential impacts on Article 2(3) land.

  • A condition is also introduced to ensure that operators consider and minimise impacts on the accessibility of footways and access to properties.

The planning process is a key part of the development of electronic communications infrastructure, and the changes are hoped to strike a balance between providing a framework that speeds up the delivery of the required infrastructure, as well as encouraging the use and sharing of existing sites and mitigating the impact of new development where that is required.

The changes come into force on 4 April 2022 and apply to England and Wales only.