Mobile phone masts in rural England to be up to 20% taller in rules shakeup

Mobile phone masts up to 30 metres tall are to get the green light to be built in the English countryside, the government announced, a 20% increase on the current maximum.

Under proposed changes to improve mobile connectivity and boost the rollout of 5G networks in rural communities, telecoms firms will be allowed to extend new and existing phone masts by five metres in height in most areas and increase their width by two metres.

The aim is to enable more equipment to be fitted to the masts as part of efforts to improve phone signals while reducing the number of new masts to be built in the countryside.

The government said stricter rules of up to 25 metres in height will apply in protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and world heritage sites, but will also include plans to allow building-based masts to be placed closer to main roads to improve signals for road users.

Currently, phone masts higher than 25 metres, or 20 metres in national parks and AONB require full planning permission. By allowing masts to be built up to five metres taller in both cases, under permitted development rights, the plans aim to shrink the planning process.

While existing masts could be updated without prior approval, most new ones will still need to be approved by local authorities, which ministers believe will incentivise developers to concentrate on improving existing masts.

“We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities,” the digital secretary, Oliver Dowden, said.

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“Today we are setting out plans to make it easier for mobile firms to transform connectivity in the countryside and propel villages and towns out of the digital dark ages – providing a welcome boost for millions of families, businesses and visitors.

“These practical changes strike a careful balance between removing unnecessary barriers holding back better coverage, while making sure we protect our precious landscape.”

The move was welcomed in the telecoms industry. The industry body Mobile UK said it welcomed and wanted reforms to the planning system “as quickly as possible”.

The government has previously announced the £1bn Shared Rural Network, which will see a number of mobile operators share infrastructure in order to boost mobile signal in the countryside.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed it was also launching a new consultation on a code of practice for mobile network operators, which would provide updated guidance on how to work together with local authorities on building communications infrastructure.


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