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This page explains when a mobile mast requires planning permission from the local planning authority and consultation requirements for planning applications. These rules apply to all mobile masts, not just 5G infrastructure.
It only describes the situation in England.
When does the installation of a mobile mast require planning permission?
The installation of telecoms infrastructure would normally count as development and require planning permission. However, communications network operators have certain permitted development rights.
These are rights to make specified changes to a building or land without the need to apply for planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA). They are derived from a general planning permission granted by Parliament.
Whether or not a mobile mast is permitted development will depend on its height and location. As of April 2022, new ground-based mobile masts up to 30 metres in non-protected areas and up to 25 metres in protected areas (such as conservation areas and national parks) are permitted.
Regardless of whether planning permission is required, operators need to obtain agreement from the landowner to build mobile masts on private land. Access agreements may take different forms, the most common agreements are wayleaves and leases.
Planning permission: new ground-based masts above 30 metres
A planning application is required for telecoms infrastructure that is not permitted development. An operator can only go ahead once they have obtained planning permission from the LPA.
LPAs will determine planning applications in line with their local plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. They will also take the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) into account when deciding planning applications and drawing up their local plan.
The NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should support the expansion of electronic communications networks (PDF), including of 5G mobile technology. The number of mobile masts should be “kept to a minimum”, but LPAs should not impose a ban on mobile masts in certain areas or insist on minimum distances between mobile masts and existing development. LPAs would not be allowed to ban masts within a certain distance of schools, for example.
Prior approval: new ground-based masts below 30 metres
Telecoms infrastructure that counts as permitted development may still require ‘prior approval’ from the LPA. The prior approval process gives LPAs the opportunity to assess whether the proposed development meets conditions set out in permitted development rules.
For mobile masts under 30 metres, the main condition is that their siting and appearance must be such that their visual impact on the surrounding area is minimised. The Government’s Code of practice for England provides guidance on the siting and appearance of telecoms infrastructure.
Factors that the LPA might consider include: a mast’s height in relation to the surrounding land and buildings, and the materials, design and colours used. The LPA will not assess whether a new mast is needed.
Requirement to notify: Upgrades to existing masts and new masts on buildings
Some permitted development does not require prior approval from the LPA. This includes minor upgrades to existing masts and new building-based masts up to six metres.
Operators are still required to notify the LPA if they intend to install infrastructure in areas where they have not previously done so. The notice period is 28 days. LPAs can set conditions for the development, but operators do not have to comply if they believe the conditions are unreasonable.
What public health rules are mobile masts required to meet?
Alongside planning applications and prior approval applications, operators have to submit a statement that confirms that a mobile mast will adhere to exposure limits on non-ionising radiation set by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
The ICNIRP is an independent organisation that provides scientific advice and guidance on non-ionising radiation. It is formally recognised by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation. The UK Health Security Agency, which is responsible for assessing risks to public health, recommends that ICNIRP guidance should be followed.
The Government states that local authorities should not set health safeguards that are different to ICNIRP guidelines (PDF). They should also not refuse applications for mobile masts on health grounds where ICNIRP guidelines are met.
Are local residents consulted on applications for mobile masts?
An LPA is required to consult on planning applications and prior approval applications. Both types of applications must be publicised to local residents by putting up a site notice or sending letters to neighbours. Planning applications must also be published on the LPA’s website.
The Government encourages LPAs to further publicise prior approval applications to allow local residents to “make their views known”. This is important to make sure that the roll-out of telecoms infrastructure is carried out in “a transparent and appropriate way”.
When making its decision, the LPA must take responses to its consultation into account insofar as they are relevant to an application. For example, for a prior approval application, the LPA’s decision will be based on the siting and appearance of a new mast, so responses should focus on those aspects.
- A Commons Library briefing explains the rules for building telecoms infrastructure (see section 2 for planning rules, including in devolved administrations). Another Commons Library briefing explains 5G and its rollout in the UK.
- For recent changes to permitted development rights in England, see the initial consultation and subsequent technical consultation. A Commons Library briefing on permitted development rights details earlier changes to planning rules for telecoms infrastructure (see section 10).
- The Government provides guidelines for the development of telecoms infrastructure and for local authorities to support the rollout of fixed and mobile networks.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.