Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mobile phone masts concern : Scottish Government response

Last month, I advised that I had written to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights asking that a review of the planning legislation be undertaken, following the revelation that, when upgrading a mobile phone mast in Perth Road (from 3G to 4G), a mobile phone provider did not require planning permission.    This allowed the provider to replace a ‘disguised’ mast with an undisguised and unsightly one.

I have now received a response from Scottish Government’s Policy Manager in Development Management - Planning & Architecture, that, for the record, I reproduce below.   The response is, sadly, thoroughly inadequate and shows a rather unfortunate laissez faire approach to planning  and a casual disregard for residential amenity :

"Thank you for your letter of 7 July to Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights.   As your concern related to permitted development rights (PDR) in regard to telecommunications masts, I have been asked to respond.

As you are aware, PDR for telecommunication equipment (Class 67 of the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992) were amended in 2014. Prior to 2014 PDR allowed operators to replace, alter or upgrade a telecommunications mast provided the mast was not located within a ‘designated area’.   One effect of the changes in 2014 was to extend such PDR to include masts in ‘designated areas’.   This includes masts in conservation areas, which I understand is the situation in this case.   The replacement, altered or upgraded mast has to be located within 4 metres of the existing mast.

Scottish Planning Policy (SSP), published in June 2014, sets out the Scottish Government position that the planning system should support:

development which helps deliver the Scottish Government’s commitment to world-class digital connectivity;
the need for networks to evolve and respond to technology improvements and new services;
inclusion of digital infrastructure in new homes and business premises; and
infrastructure provision which is sited and designed to keep environmental impacts to a minimum.

The decision by Scottish Ministers to extend PDR for replacing, upgrading or altering masts was part of a wider review of Class 67 intended to promote the provision of telecommunications and broadband infrastructure across Scotland.   The intention is to promote greater utilisation of sites that have already been granted planning permission and are therefore considered suitable for a mast, thereby reducing the need for further masts sites and minimising the overall impact of the telecommunications network on amenity.

The amendments to Class 67, including the changes to PDR for masts in designated areas were the subject of public consultation in early 2014.   There are no plans to make further amendments to Class 67 at present time.   The Scottish Government is currently reviewing guidance on telecommunications PDR and an updated Circular is expected to be published later this year.

I note your comment that the replacement of the mast would require planning permission in England and Wales.   As the mast is in a conservation area, this is correct.   You may wish to note however that in England and Wales, if the mast was located outside a conservation area, planning permission would not have been required for the initial installation of the mast or its subsequent replacement.    In Scotland, planning permission is required for all new mast installations."