The Planning Process

This section provides information on
• Evidence base requirements
• Local Plan preparation
• Requirements of the Key strategies (and evidence)
• The planning application process and permitted development (PD) rights
• Recommended Local Plan policy (while supporting text may be drawn from information contained in this guidance paper)
Evidence Base Requirements
For LPAs it is recommended that the evidence base draws on:
• The information on digital connectivity coverage (collated by Essex County Council) as set out earlier in this guidance (and therefore where there are coverage / network quality gaps that require addressing). ASELA LPA’s recommend use of more localised data, such as Think Broadband information sources and the use of local engagement on such data sources
• Information and evidence provided by the Digital Strategy / strategies relevant to that local area (see earlier sections of this guidance)
• Reference to the infrastructure delivery plans (IDPs) supporting Local Plans produced for each LPA may also provide evidence material, alongside LPA engagement with digital technology service providers
• An understanding of what current Building Regulations require in respect of digital connectivity (Building Regulations 2010 Approved Document R) since January 2017 (for England only)
The NPPF (paragraph 116) also requires that LPAs should ensure that:
‘a) they have evidence to demonstrate that electronic communications infrastructure is not expected to cause significant and irremediable interference with other electrical equipment, air traffic services or instrumentation operated in the national interest; and
b) they have considered the possibility of the construction of new buildings or other structures interfering with broadcast and electronic communications services.’
Requirements of the Key strategies (and evidence)
Depending on where development proposals are to be located, reference to the relevant strategy / strategies for that geographical area should be made as follows:
• Proposals anywhere in ECC administrative area:
Refer to the Essex countywide Digital Strategy (2022)
• Proposals in West Essex (including Uttlesford; Harlow; Epping Forest):
Refer to the West Essex / East Herts DIZ Digital Innovation Strategy
• Proposals within Harlow & Gilston Garden Town:
Refer to the forthcoming HGGT Digital Communications Strategy (see HGGT website) and the West Essex / East Herts DIZ Digital Innovation Strategy
• Proposals in South Essex (Brentwood; Thurrock; Basildon; Castle Point; Rochford; Southend):
Refer to the forthcoming digital communications strategy (see ASELA website); also refer to Southend Connectivity Strategy and Thurrock Digital and Information Technology Strategy (see Southend and Thurrock council websites)
Local Plan Preparation
The NPPF 2021 (paragraph 114) requires 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. Policies should set out how high-quality digital infrastructure, providing access to services from a range of providers, is expected to be delivered and upgraded over time; and should prioritise full-fibre connections to existing and new developments (as these connections will, in almost all cases, provide the optimum solution).’
The NPPF also seeks to avoid LPAs restricting improvements in connectivity / new infrastructure (paragraph 116), such as through blanket bans on new electronic development in particular areas, or through Article 4 directions over a wide area or for a wide range of telecommunications development. Similarly, restrictions insisting on minimum distances between new electronic equipment and existing development are to be avoided.
A recent industry presentation cited the benefits of, and called for, ‘A clear, concise, balanced Local Plan policy.’ Suggested text to inform a model Local Plan policy for digital communications infrastructure covering good practice requirements is as provided in Appendix 1.
The Planning Application (and Prior Approval) Process
Mobile Telecommunications Infrastructure
EPOA has developed a robust planning protocol for both Development Management teams in LPAs and for digital infrastructure / network / service providers and operators to guide the planning process across local authorities in Essex. This emphasises the importance of an evidence led and informed process. A key feature is the value of meaningful pre-application discussions between the applicant and LPA and taking on board the outputs of these. It recommends the preparation and submission of proportionate supporting planning statements to assist both parties in the process. Accordingly, the protocol includes a template that may be used to help structure and populate the content of these statements. This will help ensure that applicants have obtained and provided all necessary information and to guide LPAs in the determination of these proposals. It is suggested that these statements may be combined with (or form part of) Design and Access Statements, that are already required to support planning applications.
In addition, the NPPF (paragraph 117) requires that:
‘Applications for electronic communications development (including applications for prior approval under the General Permitted Development Order) should be supported by the necessary evidence to justify the proposed development. This should include:
a) the outcome of consultations with organisations with an interest in the proposed development, in particular with the relevant body where a mast is to be installed near a school or college, or within a statutory safeguarding zone surrounding an aerodrome, technical site or military explosives storage area; and
b) for an addition to an existing mast or base station, a statement that self-certifies that the cumulative exposure, when operational, will not exceed International Commission guidelines on non-ionising radiation protection; or
c) for a new mast or base station, evidence that the applicant has explored the possibility of erecting antennas on an existing building, mast or other structure and a statement that self-certifies that, when operational, International Commission guidelines will be met.’

Since the NPPF requires the submission of a statement under parts b) and c) above in any case, the preparation of a broader supporting statement is not considered an undue burden, provided this is proportionate to the circumstances (scale, location / context and complexity in particular) of the proposal. The overall statement would also be the appropriate means through which to satisfy part a) of these requirements.
Insofar as network providers / operators are concerned, the NPPF (paragraph 115) also requires the following generic and more specific considerations:
‘The number of radio and electronic communications masts, and the sites for such installations, should be kept to a minimum consistent with the needs of consumers, the efficient operation of the network and providing reasonable capacity for future expansion. Use of existing masts, buildings and other structures for new electronic communications capability (including wireless) should be encouraged. Where new sites are required (such as for new 5G networks, or for connected transport and smart city applications), equipment should be sympathetically designed and camouflaged where appropriate.’
These good practice pointers place the onus on a sound advance planning and design process, which may necessitate working positively in partnership with other interests or property owners etc. These pointers have been set down in the interests of:
• Preventing an unnecessary over-proliferation of new equipment, such as new masts or equipment boxes
• Protecting visual and environmental amenity, townscapes, landscapes etc.

These aims are shared by the Shared Rural Network, which has a current programme of enabling greater 4G coverage across the country, partly through promoting upgrading and sharing of existing digital infrastructure sites and networks. It is important for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to note LPAs identifying that adverse visual impacts often raise the most significant issues (particularly through 5G telecommunications masts within urban areas) and objections that arise in response. The NPPF position acknowledges this but particular attention towards design and visual impacts is recommended accordingly.

Fixed infrastructure
Under the Town and Country Planning GPDO the installation of fixed broadband infrastructure will not usually require planning consent. As statutory undertakers, most telecommunications network operators have permission to deploy their equipment on public land, highways and associated land (under the Electronic Communications Code), subject to compliance with streetworks requirements. These rights also extend to telecommunications deployment on private land, although operators will usually seek to secure a network access agreement defining the terms under which private land is accessed.
The UK government consulted on changes to permitted development rights for electronic communications infrastructure in 2021. Following this, its response has been published and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) confirm their intention to introduce changes to Part 16 of the GDPO 2015 and extend existing Permitted Development rights. These will:
• enable increases to width of existing masts without prior approval
• support mast sharing by allowing existing masts outside of Article 2(3) land to be increased to a height of 25 metres without the need for prior approval, with up to 30m achievable via prior approval
• On building based masts, permit smaller masts up to 6 metres in height above the tallest part of the building to be installed without the need for prior approval.

The 2021 consultation also highlighted the potential for new masts / transmitters etc. to become smaller in future and therefore with the potential to be affixed to existing street infrastructure.
For both fixed and mobile infrastructure deployment on new sites it is important that developers engage early with the broadband / telecommunications infrastructure and service providers, i.e. at the point of designing their early plans. In compliance with the broad strategic ambitions of Essex local authorities, developers planning and shaping new developments should make early plans for the installation of appropriate fixed and mobile digital communications infrastructure. This should be designed in prior to obtaining planning consent for the development. LPAs should adopt a proactive stance and require such detailed provision at an early stage of the Planning process, anticipating an imminent change in planning legislation to make the provision of gigabit infrastructure mandatory for new developments.

Page updated: 19/01/2023

Make the most of the Essex Design Guide, register today

As well as ensuring you are always in the know about future changes and updates to the Essex Design Guide, registering with us will enable to you to add and manage bookmarks throughout the site, so your most-used areas of the guide are always easy to find.

Register for updates

© 2024 Copyright Essex County Council. All rights reserved.