Text Only Version Last Update: Press Releases (28 April 2023)
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David Ruffley MP
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David Ruffley
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“Give local people the final say on mobile masts” says Ruffley
Launching a campaign to highlight the new policies entitled,‘You decide where they go’, David Ruffley explained:
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“The erection of poorly-located masts has been causing considerable disquiet across many parts of Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket. There is a presumption in favour of development inherent in the current planning system, which wrongly overrides local, environmental and safety concerns.
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“In addition to my leaflet campaign on Moreton Hall I will now be writing to all Parish Councils in my constituency and all interested groups, such as those in Stowupland, who have been campaigning on this issue to highlight the new Conservative proposals and our policy consultation. I would encourage as many people as possible to comment on these proposals, which are outlined in full below:
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MOBILE PHONE MASTS:
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YOU DECIDE WHERE THEY GO
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Summary
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The erection of poorly-sited mobile phone masts is causing considerable disquiet across the country. Whereas the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Scotland have already adopted tougher planning controls, in England there remains a presumption in favour of development inherent in the current planning system which overrides environmental and safety concerns, and sidelines the views of local people. Conservatives will champion the interests of local residents and address the feelings of powerlessness and frustration experienced by those living under the spectre of badly located masts.
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Under our proposed five point plan:
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1. All mobile phone mast developments should require full planning permission, so that local councillors are clearly accountable and answerable for where masts are located.
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2. There should be a single process for deciding all masts, including those on Network Rail or church property, Tetra masts, as well as small antennas being installed in street furniture or signs.
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3. Councils should be allowed to take health concerns into account such as near homes, hospitals and schools. Current national planning guidance prohibits this.
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4. Mast operators will be required to demonstrate that any development does not result in unacceptable damage to visual amenity or harm environmentally sensitive features.
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5. Councils will be asked to draw up their own supplementary planning guidance to ensure consistency and clarity for operators and residents, and ensure a plan-led approach to future development.
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Need for Action
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Growing numbers of masts: When legislation was originally introduced to encourage the fast-track development of the nascent mobile phone industry, the sheer numbers of masts that would result were not anticipated. The New Scientist (10 February 2023), noting research from telecoms analyst Ovum, has suggested that 3G operators will need at least 100,000 new masts – ‘a number that dwarfs the 40,000 used for today’s GSM network… The 3G system uses higher frequencies than GSM, which do not travel so well, so it will need three times as many antennas in urban areas and twice as many in the country. This means Britain’s five 3G operators will need at least 100,000 new antennas between them.’
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Cross-party calls for action: The calls for greater local say on masts come across the political spectrum. The administrations in Northern Ireland and Scotland have already adopted new controls. In Parliament, in the current 2004 session, there are four different Private Member’s Bills calling for action (sponsored by David Amess, Jim Dowd, Richard Spring and Keith Vaz). The Local Government Association has also supported making mobile phone masts subject to full planning permission.
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Scientific Advice: In the face of uncertain science about possible health risks with mobile phones, a panel of independent, expert scientists in 2000 recommended the Government take possible health risks into account. The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (the ‘Stewart Report’ / Mobile Phones and Health, 2000) maintained:
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‘The location of base stations and the processes by which they are authorised appear to be the aspects of mobile phone technology that generate most public concern. Public telecommunications operators have been granted a number of rights similar to those enjoyed by gas, water and electricity companies… We believe this approach is not optimal since it does not allow adequately for the uncertainties in scientific knowledge…. the possibility of harm from exposures insufficient to cause important heating of tissues cannot yet be ruled out with confidence. Furthermore, the anxieties that some people feel when this uncertainty is ignored can in themselves affect their well-being. Other aspects of the planning process for base stations are also unsatisfactory. Some citizens feel that the siting of base stations, and particularly of masts, can result in a loss of amenity and possibly a reduction in the value of property, and it is clear that, in the face of this threat, many feel excluded and disempowered by the planning system now in operation. The resultant frustration also has negative effects on people’s health and well-being. We conclude therefore, that changes to the regulation of base stations are necessary.’
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Warning of potential health risks to children, they advised:
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‘We recommend that for all base stations, including those with masts under 15 m, permitted development rights should be revoked, and that the siting of all new base stations should be subject to the normal planning process… We recommend, in relation to macrocell base stations sited within school grounds, that the beam of greatest RF intensity should not fall on any part of the school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents. Similar considerations should apply to macrocell base stations sited near to school grounds.’
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Inadequate Government response: In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the devolved administrations have already made mobile phone masts subject to far tougher planning controls (Scottish Executive Circular 5/2001 and NI DoE PPS 10). Yet Government-issued Planning Policy Guidance in England on mobile phone masts (PPG8, August 2001, c.29-31) prevents councils objecting to mobile phone masts on health grounds, and the Government have refused to allow proper scrutiny via the planning permission process. Indeed, in a letter to council leaders 2000, Planning Minister Nick Raynsford, explicitly instructed councils that they should not impose a ban on mobile phone masts on health grounds (DETR Letter from Minister for Housing & Planning, 29 June 2023).
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Our Five Point Plan
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Conservatives have five key policies on mobile phone masts for consultation with the public and industry. They relate to England, as in far as planning legislation is devolved.
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1. Full planning permission: The current procedure for which masts require planning permission is convoluted. We propose that the remaining permitted development rights would be revoked and all mobile phone mast developments would be subject to the normal planning process and require full planning permission. The All Party Parliamentary Mobile Group’s recent inquiry noted that this would result in ‘a higher level of engagement and subsequent ownership of the process by local communities and concerned individuals, resulting in less objections, less likelihood of rejection of the proposals, and less confrontation between operators and objectors’ (Report of an Inquiry by the All Party Mobile Group, July 2004, c.3.16). As in Northern Ireland, the installation or significant alteration of masts would require permission; minor day-to-day operations such as the installation of underground cables and junction boxes would not.
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2. Single process: There should be a single process for deciding all masts/base stations, including those on Network Rail or church property, Tetra masts, as well as small antennas being installed in street furniture or signs. Whilst we recognise the importance of Network Rail putting in place necessary infrastructure to improve rail safety, equally, such new masts should be appropriately located to take into account residents’ concerns, such as near schools and homes.
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3. Taking health concerns into account: Councils should be allowed to take health concerns into account, such as near homes, hospitals and schools. Current national planning guidance effectively prohibits this, although the wording is so badly drafted that there is confusion about the extent to which perceived health risks can be taken into account as a secondary consideration (as evident by the High Court case of T Mobile, Hutchison 3G, Orange vs. First Secretary of State and Harrogate Borough Council (2004), currently awaiting an Appeal hearing). Bodies like the Local Government Association could promote best practice, exchange information and ensure councils are informed of the latest scientific research.
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4. Protection from visual intrusion: Mast operators will be required to demonstrate that any development does not result in unacceptable damage to visual amenity or harm environmentally sensitive features, and councils will be able to take into account the cumulative impact of a large number of masts in any location. This would encourage greater creativity in the siting of masts and promote designs which fit into rural and urban landscapes. Indeed, research into the tougher regulations in Scotland introduced in 2001 has concluded that ‘since the introduction of stricter planning regulations, visual considerations are generally taken more seriously by telecommunications operators and planning authorities alike’ (University of Dundee for Scottish Executive Social Research, Evaluation of revised planning controls over telecommunications development, July 2004, p.53).
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5. Greater consistency: Councils will be asked to draw up their own supplementary planning guidance to ensure consistency and clarity for operators and residents (under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, this would effectively be a Local Development Document in a council’s Local Development Scheme). Greater certainty will help the telecommunications industry by avoiding them have to incur costs for planning applications and appeals unnecessarily. We would facilitate councils having the ability to encourage greater mast sharing and ensure a planned approach to future mast development; equally, councils will recognise that a single larger shared site can sometimes be more visually intrusive.
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Q&A;
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Won’t this mean that no new mobile phone masts will be built ?
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Northern Ireland and Scotland already have greater local controls on new masts – and masts are still being built there and applications for developments continue to be submitted.
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A recent independent study of the effect of the new regulations in Scotland, concluded, ‘there was no evidence to suggest that the new regulations have slowed down roll-out of the infrastructure. In general, the commercial climate for mobile telephony has been less favourable. The planned roll-out of 3G has been slower than anticipated, but not as a result of the new planning regulations… The new planning controls have created opportunities for partnership working between the operators and planning authorities. In most cases it is apparent that the enhanced scope for dialogue has been productive’ (University of Dundee for Scottish Executive Social Research, Evaluation of revised planning controls over telecommunications development, July 2004).
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Isn’t it the case that local authorities will be overwhelmed with planning applications ?
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Local planning authorities already have to deal with a large number of planning applications for developments every single week. In the year of 2002-03, district planning authorities in England received 634,000 individual applications (ODPM, Development Control Statistics, England 2002-03, March 2004).
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To put this in context, in Scotland, in the year after tougher controls were introduced in 2001, 1,011 telecommunications planning applications were considered by Scottish councils in 2002 and 850 in 2003, with two-thirds of all applications being determined within 2 months (Scottish Executive, Sixth Annual Report of the Planning Audit Unit: 2003, July 2004).
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Hence, we believe that extra mast applications will not pose a significant burden. Local authorities will continue to be able to make decisions by delegated authority – such as for uncontroversial applications or alterations.
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Don’t we need more masts to cope with growing mobile phone usage ?
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We are not advocating that no new masts should be built – but we do want to empower local communities to prevent ones being erected in inappropriate locations.
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Given the large ownership of mobile phones, local councillors will invariably take into account the need for people to receive good coverage, and weigh up the pros and cons of individual applications (especially the need to ensure communications for the emergency services). For example, new housing estates, new hospitals, new fire stations are all subject to full planning permission – yet this has not prevented new developments in those cases.
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Won’t this damage the telecommunications industry ?
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We recognise the importance of the telecommunications industry to the economy. Conservatives want to see a competitive industry with a comprehensive infrastructure. Yet the permitted development rights that were needed to kick-start a nascent industry are no longer essential now the industry has matured. Like other commercial and industrial developments, environmental considerations should be taken into account.
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Consultation
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The Conservative Party welcomes responses to these proposals for consultation. Responses can be sent to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.
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David Ruffley MP - On Your Side
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