Big Telecom’s Exploitation of Permitted Development

How telecommunications companies no longer need to seek planning permission to install and erect mobile phone masts (base stations) across the UK.

by L O’Connor for Digital Survivor

Mobile phone masts seem to spring up overnight. With the rollout of 5G technology their presence will be on the increase.

Mischa Dohler, Professor of wireless communication at Kings College, Cambridge, has stated that we might need up to 100 times more masts than currently exist in Britain.

How the process works

The target planning authority is first approached by the phone company after which it has 56 days to make a determination. Otherwise the matter is deemed “permitted development”.

Permitted Development allows phone companies to access land, with the owner’s permission, to install a mast or other infrastructure. Of course, this agreement usually brings a financial incentive for the land owner.

Once a mast is in place, other telecommunications companies can also erect their equipment onto it – adding further sources of  dangerous electromagnetic radiation to an already inundated environment.

In a non-protected area a mast can be as high as 25 meters. On protected sites such as national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas, a mast may be up to 20 meters tall.

No way to object

Telecoms operators should discuss proposals on or near schools before submitting any application and should provide evidence of safety standards.

At the moment there is no lawful way for members of the public to object to a mobile phone mast or mobile phone base station being erected.

Instead we are expected to rely on our local planning authorities to take into account possible risks to public health – and hope they make the right decisions.

Location, location!

So can we at least know the locations of the masts or base stations?

If you are in Ireland there is that’s worth checking out.

Over here in the UK, a national database was set up to give information and locations of masts, including their transmitting power, called sitefinder.

Ofcom took over sitefinder but no longer receives updates from mobile phone operators regarding their mast locations.

The best we have now is the rather opaque website

Useless local authorities

UK mobile phone operators do publish the location of every mast or base station annually.

This data is collected by the Mobile Operators Association which then translates and sends it to the relevant local authorities.

Unfortunately the majority of these local councils do nothing with the information.

An opportunity denied to potential objectors?

“If a map of the base stations was compiled properly, might that information become a threat to the telecommunications companies themselves?”

Think of how that mapped information could be used; conducting a study on declining bees in the vicinity of the mast, tracking the decline of small song birds in an urban area, or identifying cancer clusters in local neighbourhoods.

This is important information and should be made public – but we need to demand it!

Even if the financial loss could be catastrophic for local authorities and telecommunications companies, this is a fight that the public has every right to win!

L O’Connor