05 September 2019

What is the consultation about?

The consultation published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in August 2019 asks for views on proposals to expand permitted development rights (PD rights) in England for mobile network operators.

Why is there a consultation?

5G – the latest mobile phone network technology - is here. It needs to be deployed.

The government is committed to ensuring mobile networks are extended to cover more of the country. It recognises the economic benefits of improving connectivity, particularly for rural communities communications, by making business easier, enabling working from home and enabling real-time management of data to allow regulation of traffic flow, energy usage and improve productivity in agriculture, for example.

The government is supporting the roll out of 5G networks with hundreds of millions of pounds funding towards trials. In 2017, the government reformed the Electronic Communications Code in order to make it cheaper and easier to install, maintain and upgrade communications equipment. The government revised the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2018 and this includes planning policy to support the expansion of electronic communications networks. Expanding permitted development rights for mobile network operators would further support the deployment of 5G. The government envisages the mobile network operators will look to use existing sites and share sites wherever possible.

What PD rights exist for operators?

Electronic communication code operators (i.e. those operators registered with Ofcom) enjoy PD rights which, in effect, give them planning permission for certain development, subject to specified parameters. Some development requires operators to apply to the local authority for prior approval for the siting and appearance of the apparatus. PD rights are restricted on land specially designated for its cultural or ecological qualities, e.g. conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and world heritage sites, referred to in this context as ‘article 2(3) land’. The visual impacts of the development are to be minimised so far as practicable.

Alongside the PD rights, operators must comply with statutory conditions and restrictions and mobile network operators have a code of best practice.  Together, these and the NPPF, help ensure that operators provide apparatus which is safe, does not interfere with traffic or other communication systems, is sympathetically designed and minimises visual impacts.  Site sharing is encouraged.

What is the aim of the consultation?

Government has identified specific PD rights which would make it simpler for operators to install or upgrade equipment needed for 5G, and this in turn, could facilitate site sharing. If implemented, the proposals would bring the PD rights in line with other regimes and result in fewer installations requiring prior approval or planning permission. The government wants the views of stakeholders and the public on its proposals.

What are the proposals?


Current PD rights



Radio equipment housing

Install, alter and replace radio equipment housing within specified size limits.

Prior approval process required for development larger than 2.5m3 or on article 2(3) land or a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Remove requirement for prior approval for all permitted development, except for development on SSSIs.


These would be consistent with the PD rights for fixed line broadband infrastructure.

Ground-based masts

Existing masts 

Increase width of existing mast, within limits.

Alter or replace a mast within specified height limits.

Requires planning permission if the replacement is taller than the original mast.

Allow greater increases in width under PD rights.

Allow a replacement mast to be as tall as the height permitted for installation of a new mast (regardless of height of the original mast).

PD rights for replacements etc. would be consistent with the procedure for new masts. There is no restriction on the width of a new mast installed under PD rights.

New masts 

Installation of masts within specific height restrictions.

Subject to prior approval.

 Increase height allowed under PD rights.  Taller masts to improve network coverage and site sharing.

Building-based masts near to highways

No PD rights exist for the installation of a mast on a building which is less than 15m tall if the mast would be within 20m of the highway.

Alter or replace a mast on a building which is less than 15m tall if the mast would be within 20m of the highway. Permitted so long as the mast is no larger than, and its siting is the same as, the original.

Create PD rights to install a mast on a building which is less than 15m tall and the mast would be within 20m of the highway.


It is hoped this would encourage the use of buildings over ground-based masts. Highway safety needs to be considered.


Likely future outcomes/commentary

The consultation closes on 4 November 2019.  Subject to the outcome of the current consultation, the government anticipates consulting further on the detailed proposals.

How we can help

Burges Salmon’s Planning and Compulsory Purchase team has been advising telecommunications operators and local authorities on planning and compulsory purchase issues surrounding mobile networks for over ten years. These have included the scope and application of permitted development rights; planning agreements; planning appeals; enforcement; judicial review and challenges; compulsory purchase powers and procedure and compensation. For further information please contact Liz Dunn.

Key contact

Elizabeth Dunn

Elizabeth Dunn Partner

  • Energy and Utilities
  • Infrastructure
  • Real Estate

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