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Lawbite: The takeover of 5G – proposed reforms to permitted development rights

  • United Kingdom
  • Litigation and dispute management
  • Real estate
  • Real estate litigation - LawBite


In August 2019, the Government consulted on the principle of amending permitted development rights in England to grant planning permission for mobile infrastructure to support deployment of 5G and extend mobile coverage.

The Government is committed to extending mobile geographical coverage further across the UK and being a world leader in 5G and has already taken the following steps:

2016 - the Government amended planning regulations to extend the existing permitted development rights to enable ground and building-based mobile telecoms masts to be built without the need for a full planning application.

2017 - the Government introduced reforms to the Electronic Communications Code to incentivise and support network investment by making it cheaper and easier for communications apparatus to be installed, maintained and upgraded.

2018 - the Government strengthened national planning policy to support the expansion of electronic communications networks.

2019 - Government consultation on “Proposed reforms to permitted development rights to support the deployment of 5G and extend mobile coverage” - see below

Potential changes to the General Permitted Development Order (“GPDO”)

Government Proposal 1: remove the requirement for prior approval for development within protected Article 2(3) land (Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and World Heritage Sites), and for development on unprotected land which exceeds 2.5 cubic metres.


  • the reform would enable a faster roll out of equipment housing - one months’ notice to the local planning authority prior to deployment, rather than the current 56 days
  • prior approval still required for areas of special scientific interest
  • equipment must be sympathetically designed and camouflaged where appropriate
  • if the GPDO is amended resulting in an increase in the amount of equipment housing deployed, this will need to be addressed to minimise the impact on the surrounding area:
    • strengthen the Code of Best Practice on siting and appearance of cabinets
    • encourage Code Operators to share equipment housing to reduce the need
    • use equipment housing for siting smaller antennas as suggested by the Code of Best Practice

Government Proposal 2: remove the limit on increasing the width of existing ground-based masts up to one third under the permitted development rights without prior approval, to encourage greater utilisation of existing sites before identifying new sites.


  • if operators are able to install more equipment on each site, shared sites will be bigger but fewer sites will be needed to improve coverage and capacity
  • when extending masts, the Code of Best Practice encourages operators to remove redundant brackets and fixings, and when replacing masts to look at lighter weight lattice or pole masts
  • if the GPDO is amended to remove the limit on increasing the width of existing ground-based masts, the Code of Best Practice may need to be strengthened:
    • to reflect siting and appearance of poles
    • consider whether any additional environmental enhancements could be provided by operators when extending masts

Government Proposal 3: amend the GPDO to allow building-based masts to be deployed nearer to highways (within 20 metres of the highway, located on buildings less than 15 metres tall) to ensure that customers receive more dependable and consistent coverage where they live, work, visit and travel


  • the proposal would encourage greater use of existing buildings for siting apparatus, reducing the need for new ground-based masts and minimising the overall visual impact
  • any potential impact on visual amenity or highway safety for vehicle lines of sight
  • should the installation alteration or replacement of the mast still be subject to the prior approval process
  • if the GPDO is amended to allow the deployment of building-based masts nearer to highways, restrictions could be considered to control the deployment of masts near highways:
    • a revised minimum restriction for the height of the building
    • a revised minimum restriction on the proximity to the highway
    • restricting the number of masts that can be installed on buildings less than 15 metres height

Government Proposal 4: amend the GPDO to encourage the deployment of fewer but taller masts, by increasing the height of new masts which can be deployed by Code Operators through permitted development rights, subject to the prior approval process


  • restrictions to be put in place to control development
  • will a lower permitted height limit for masts located on Article 2(3) land and land on highways need to be retained given the demand for better mobile coverage in rural areas, including protected areas

The consultation closes on 4 November 2019 after which point the Government will consider the replies and issue a response. Depending on the outcome, a further consultation is likely on the Government’s detailed proposals.