Mobile phone masts and the planning system

A modern, high quality, telecommunications (telecoms) system is important for communities across all parts of the UK. Good mobile coverage helps businesses to grow and people to stay in touch. This is essential for social inclusion, and particularly important for people who are vulnerable or isolated. People are increasingly using mobile connectivity to access the internet, as more and more people own smartphones and tablet devices.

Do mobile phone masts need planning permission?

Masts and telecoms equipment do not always need planning permission from the council. The government is allowing licensed telecoms operators to carry out certain types of smaller scale telecoms development as part of permitted development rights.

Telecoms development will normally fall into one of three categories:

1. Small developments

The smallest scale telecoms development, those that are likely to have the least impact, have permitted development rights, which means they don't need planning permission. Masts do not fall into this category. Telecoms operators must notify us of these works and we are able to comment on them. We're usually only given 28 days to comment and the operators do not have to take our comments on board.

Read the relevant permitted development regulations.

2. Development requiring 'prior approval'

Some smaller scale masts may come under permitted development, but will need our approval. In these cases, an application has to be submitted to us to approve the proposed location and appearance. We must make our decision within 56 days or the application will be automatically allowed.

3. Development requiring planning permission

Larger scale masts that are likely to have a greater impact will need planning permission. These include, for example, any masts located in sensitive areas such as conservation areas or areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs). There are also separate requirements for listed building consent and scheduled ancient monument consent.

Applications for masts that need planning permission are dealt with as part of the normal planning process and will be assessed against a range of planning criteria as well as policies set out in an adopted development plan, such as a Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan.

Telecommunications and health concerns?

New proposals for mobile phone masts or base stations are often controversial - particularly if they are sited in residential areas. Behind the concern is usually a sense that the health risks associated with mobile phone technology have not been properly explained.

Local residents will inevitably look to their council to control the development of new sites, but in many ways councils' planning powers are limited. Most crucially of all, councils have been told by ministers that they should not refuse planning applications for masts or base stations on health grounds where these meet the ICNIRP guidelines.

This is covered in section 10 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).