How can the local planning authority support the rollout of fixed and mobile networks at the local level?
Local planning authorities have a crucial role in the deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure at the local level.* Local planning authorities should make decisions for digital infrastructure in a timely manner and, where possible, should discuss operators’ deployment plans well in advance.
*It is noted that planning is a devolved matter, and legislation varies in each nation.
National Planning Policy Framework
Applies to: England
The National Planning Policy Framework chapter 10 states that local planning authorities:
should support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G) and full fibre broadband connections.
Policies should set out how high quality digital infrastructure, providing access to services from a range of providers, is expected to be delivered and upgraded over time; and should prioritise full fibre connections to existing and new developments (as these connections will, in almost all cases, provide the optimum solution).
Local authorities can help to create incentives for future investment in digital infrastructure in their area by ensuring Local Plans effectively support it. To do this, Local Plans can outline how planning policies will support the rollout of both fixed and mobile infrastructure.
This could include policies that will support the future of mobile connectivity and the rollout of small cells for 5G which is most likely to be needed in dense, urban areas. This is important as all formal planning applications will be assessed against the Local Plan.
For example, a Local Plan could ensure that all new developments have sufficient ducting space for full fibre connectivity; and/or support the effective use of rooftops and street furniture to accommodate mobile digital infrastructure, including small cells for 5G.
Early engagement and pre-application consultations
Local authorities and industry are encouraged to engage at the earliest opportunity to discuss deployment plans to minimise costs, time and uncertainty associated with the planning process for the deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure.
Feedback from industry and local authorities suggests that pre-application consultations can help to streamline the planning application process and maximise the chances of applications being approved. While it is the responsibility of the potential applicant to undertake pre-application consultations, local planning authorities can help to make sure these are used effectively to support the rollout of networks.
For example, local planning authorities could provide communications network providers with detailed feedback on initial plans for deployment and offer a meaningful response, which could be used to inform the formal planning process. Local planning authorities are also encouraged to provide pre-application services at a rate that encourages early engagement to support timely and effective planning processes. Some local planning authorities have chosen not to impose a fee for pre-application consultations.
Coordination between the local planning department and highways department
Effective rollout of digital infrastructure relies on coordination and communication within local authorities. If the planned deployment is likely to impact the road network, the digital champion in local authorities is encouraged to engage early and regularly with the local highways authority during the planning process, using the process as outlined in the Street Works Toolkit.