Reforms to planning laws will soon see phone masts made up to five meters taller and two meters wider to help reduce phone signal 'not-spots' and enable a 5G rollout. The changes will also ultimately mean that less phone masts will need to be built, instead modifying the current masts.
The government will however put tough new legal duties on operators to minimise the visual impact of network equipment, particularly in protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The aim is to therefore reduce the need for new phone masts and boost signal on country roads.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: "We’ve all felt the frustration of having the ‘no bar blues’ when struggling to get a phone signal, so we’re changing the law to wipe out mobile ‘not spots’ and dial up the roll out of next-generation 5G. Phone users across the country will benefit - whether they are in a city, village or on the road - and tighter rules on the visual impact of new infrastructure will ensure our cherished countryside is protected."
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The modifications will enable communities to enjoy the revolutionary benefits of 5G technologies sooner, including specialised robots and drones driving productivity in agricultural industries. With download speeds up to 100 times that of 4G and it is said that the move will help to "revolutionise our daily lives, industries and public services by powering game-changing technologies".
The government confirmed it will make amendments to the Town and Country Planning Order 2015, meaning existing mobile masts can be strengthened without prior approval, so they can be upgraded for 5G. This would allow increases to the width of existing masts by up to either 50 per cent or two metres (whichever is greatest) and, in unprotected areas, allow increases in height up to a maximum of 25 metres (previously 20 metres). However, greater increases will also be permitted subject to approval by the local authority.
New masts will be allowed to be built up to five metres higher - meaning a maximum of 30 metres in unprotected areas and 25 metres in protected areas, subject to approval by the planning authority. Buildings will also to host smaller masts of up to six metres in height above itself in unprotected areas.
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Housing minister Stuart Andrew said: "Ensuring as many people as possible, wherever they live in the country, have access to fast, reliable mobile coverage and digital connectivity is crucial to our levelling up vision. These changes to planning rules will help providers to give more people access to improved 4G and cutting edge 5G coverage, while also protecting our cherished natural landscape."
The government has also reassured communities that robust conditions will also remain in place to make sure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected during the upgrades.
All new ground-based masts will also need to be approved by local authorities which will continue to have a say on where they are placed and their appearance.
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