By Mark Jackson, ISPreview UK | July 15th, 2014
The National Parks England (NPE) and UK Mobile Operators Association (MOA) have reached a new “landmark agreement” that aims to boost the coverage of mobile phone and Mobile Broadband connectivity in protected rural areas, albeit while also “minimising any adverse environmental impacts” and working “proactively and pragmatically in order to achieve these aims“.
The English National Parks, which cover almost 10% of England and around 330,000 people, typically include the Broads Authority, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, North York Moors, Northumberland, Peak District, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities. Meanwhile the MOA represents EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three UK.
However until recently the NPE were still warning that the government’s work to relax the planning rules for broadband (Growth and Infrastructure Act) could cause damage to the countryside and other green spaces. The act was ultimately softened (here) but some concerns, especially with regards to the building of large mobile masts, continued.
By contrast the New Accord hopes to overcome this by setting out a more cooperative approach to development, which will include “mast-sharing, site-sharing, and any other technical advances where this would provide the required coverage and represent an acceptable environmental solution.”
* The National Park Authorities and Mobile Operators will identify key link people for the purposes of constructive early dialogue over operators’ plans for new site rollout
* The operators will engage with the Park Authority at an early stage if there is a major phase of new site rollout in the area, and will undertake pre-application discussion with the Park Authority, in line with the Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development.
* The operators will provide appropriate technical information to assist National Park Authorities to identify potential new sites and to demonstrate that an acceptable environmental and network coverage location has been located.
* The operators’ acquisition agents/planning consultants will initiate appropriate pre-application discussions with the relevant National Park Authority prior to the submission of any application for new telecommunications sites within the National Parks in order to explore acceptable environmental and network solutions, in line with the Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Developmentvi.
* As part of any pre-application discussions, the National Park Authorities will aim to provide greater certainty of timescales for decision-making on planning applications, for example through the use of Planning Performance Agreements.
* Options to minimise adverse landscape effects in National Parks should include consideration of mast-sharing, site-sharing, and any other technical advances where this would provide the required coverage and represent an acceptable environmental solution.
* The National Park Authority and Operators will be open to consideration of alternative designs, innovative proposals and network solutions, or mitigation measures to facilitate network deployment in an environmentally sensitive manner.
* Both parties will seek to find solutions in recognition of the fact that many of the harder to reach rural areas are, as well as being environmentally sensitive, also less attractive to invest in financially.
* The National Park Authorities and Operators will discuss from time to time, any plans or aspirations to remove redundant infrastructure on the basis that it no longer has a viable use.
* National Parks England and the MOA will work together to share and promote good practice in design solutions, including through discussions with Government on the Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development.
* To ensure that the objectives of this Accord are achieved, the signatories will meet from time to time, at least once a year to monitor progress.