An Evaluation of Revised Planning Controls over Telecommunications Development

MG Lloyd, Deborah Peel, PM Roberts, J Riley

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


    SUMMARYContextIn July 2001 the Scottish Executive introduced new land use planning controls to regulate the development of telecommunications in Scotland. The revised planning arrangements were an attempt to reconcile a number of competing challenges associated with the provision of a mobile telephony infrastructure. The economic and social benefits of telecommunications and the desire to ensure an efficient roll-out of infrastructure have to be balanced against a greater sensitivity to public concerns about siting, design and health considerations of mobile-based stations, particularly telecommunication masts.Until 2001, telecommunications development in Scotland was regulated through the administration of permitted development rights. The proliferation of masts and public concern about telecommunications development highlighted a number of issues with these arrangements. In particular the permitted development rights arrangements were considered to be poorly understood, and failed to facilitate sufficient public involvement. Further, the system was perceived to be administratively complex. Therefore, the new land use planning arrangements sought to respond to the need for improved public involvement, and to take account of local concerns, and to attempt a better balance between the needs of the industry with issues about the planning and environmental impacts.The Scottish Executive commissioned this research study to evaluate the effects of the revised land use planning controls on the different communities of interest involved in the development of mobile telephony in Scotland. These interests included the statutory planning authorities, the Scottish Executive's Inquiry Reporters Unit (SEIRU), the licensed telecommunication operators and agents, elected members, planning consultants, other regulatory and special interest groups, and the wider business and local community.Research Aims and ObjectivesThe principal aim of the research was to evaluate the broad effects, including the social and economic impacts, of the new planning controls on the different communities of interest involved in the industry. The research questions address matters of process and outcome, and the perceptions of those involved. Specifically these are:The effects on planning authorities' workloads, the consistency of approach between planning authorities and whether the fees accompanying telecommunications planning applications are appropriate;The effects on the telecommunications industry; specifically the rate of network roll-out, particularly for third generation (3G) services, and the extent to which other factors, such as market conditions, may have masked or enhanced that effect;The perceptions of the public and planning authorities of telecommunications development; and the perceptions of the industry of the planning regime; and to offer a view as to whether the stated policy objectives of striking an appropriate balance between the needs of the industry and concerns about the environmental impact of telecommunications has been achieved through the revised regulations;The extent of dialogue between the industry and planning authorities to identify optimal solutions, to explore alternatives, and to manage consultation;The outcomes on the ground, including better designed masts in appropriate locations (visual amenity); increased co-operation between operators and mast-sharing; and the effects of local authority moratoria on the use of council-owned land and buildings;The workload of the SEIRU, the nature of appeals being lodged, and the decisions being made, including the way in which the legislation and associated policy guidance is being interpreted in these decisions; andElected council members' perception of their ability to represent constituents' on-going concerns about telecommunications development.Research MethodologyThe research methods included desk study research (a literature review and the analysis of available monitoring data and relevant consultation documentation), and fieldwork. The fieldwork involved seven local case studies in Scotland, and interpretive insights drawn from individual case studies in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Targeted semi-structured interviews with selected protagonists were used to provide a national and comparative perspective. In addition, views were canvassed from appropriate professional and campaign bodies and potential telecommunications equipment host interests in Scotland. Two focus groups were held with the operators through the auspices of the Mobile Operators Association (MOA) to enable a UK-wide and a Scottish perspective.Research FindingsThe findings from this study suggest that the new planning controls have not inhibited roll-out to any great extent, and that the telecommunications operators and their agents are working well within the Scottish land use planning context. An important caveat to these findings, however, relates to the changing market conditions of the industry, the maturing in the life-cycle of the roll-out, and the parallel development of the MOA's Ten Commitments. The operators' Code to Best Siting seeks to improve consultation, to enhance practice at the local level, and to encourage inter-operator working. The findings suggest that there needs to be a better public understanding of the planning system, together with the technical requirements of the telephony industry, particularly with respect to health.ConclusionsTelecommunications is a vital and dynamic industry. The research shows that the land use planning controls have brought about a better balance between the needs of the industry and local circumstances in terms of environmental concerns, and siting and design considerations. The changing technology and the need to develop new knowledge and understanding suggests that the land use planning controls (and the Ten Commitments) will have to continue to be responsive to changing circumstances and pressures.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherUnknown Publisher
    Number of pages78
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jul 2004

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    Telecommunications section at:

    International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection

    Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones

    Mobile Operators Association


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