National planning policy & requirements
The National Planning Policy Framework 2021 (NPPF) provides the national planning policy position for England on digital communications at section 10 (Supporting high quality communications). This sets the context for planning for this form of infrastructure. The NPPF takes a very positive stance towards enabling and promoting digital connectivity and recognises that:
‘Advanced, high quality and reliable communications infrastructure is essential for economic growth and social well-being.’
This states accordingly that planning policies and decisions should support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology, such as 5G and full fibre broadband connections (paragraph 112).
The Framework is clear that decisions on applications should be made as quickly as possible, and within statutory timescales unless a longer period has been agreed by the applicant in writing. In relation to electronic communications development, it also states that local planning authorities must determine applications on planning grounds only and they should not seek to prevent competition between different operators, or question the need for an electronic communications system, or set health safeguards different from the International Commission guidelines for public exposure. As set out in national Planning Practice Guidance on ‘Determining a planning application’, it is in the public interest for local planning authorities to have effective delegation arrangements in place to ensure that decisions on planning applications that raise no significant planning issues are made quickly and that resources are appropriately concentrated on the applications of greatest significance to the local area.
There is no (national) planning practice guidance specifically dedicated to digital communications.
What are national requirements on digital connectivity for serving new developments?
The Government is moving towards a position whereby new developments are expected to include gigabit capable broadband connections (typically provided through full fibre to the premises - FTTP) to all new premises. This may prove more problematic for smaller developments in some cases because installation tends to be more expensive but evidence should be required to demonstrate any such cases. The Government’s announcement (on 17 March 2021) advised that ‘Government will legislate to make sure new build homes come with gigabit-speed broadband fit for the future’. This was to be achieved through a review of the Building Regulations (Part R, to update the 2010 regulations, introduced in 2016, on physical infrastructure for electronic communications). As yet, this part of the Building Regulations has not been updated to upgrade these connectivity requirements. In addition, there are identifiable limitations to the effect of the Government’s announced new approach. Given this context, it will be important for local planning authorities to seek opportunities for future-proofed, higher levels and standards of digital connectivity for their areas through the planning system. Whilst different operators / providers may take alternative approaches to how they provide their digital services and this may promote innovation and efficiencies, some recognition of this and flexibility is appropriate and may be helpful in avoiding the need for potentially expensive retrofit of buildings.
 HM Government (2020) Press release: New-build homes to come gigabit-speed ready [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-build-homes-to-come-gigabit-speed-ready
Page updated: 19/01/2023