The rollout of third-generation (3G) mobile phone networks in the UK may be hampered by public protests against mobile masts, as Parliament considers a proposal that could make it harder for operators to get planning permission for 3G base stations.
The second reading of the Telecommunications Transmitters (restrictions on planning applications) Bill will be heard at the House of Commons on Friday afternoon. Frank Field, the MP bringing the bill, says it is an attempt to stop mobile phone companies repeatedly making applications for planning permission, to build new base stations or add to existing ones, even after earlier applications have been rejected.
If accepted by Parliament, the legislation would give local authority planning departments the power to refuse to accept applications on sites where they have recently rejected applications.
"At present mobile phone companies, with their vast resources, can come back to the table time and time again and wage a war of attrition against the local authority. My Bill aims to introduce some sense into this and balance residents' rights against commercial interests. Even if the Bill does not become law immediately, the issue is on the agenda and reform is a matter of time," said Field in a recent newspaper column.
The bill would allow planning departments to refuse an application for a mast if "two similar applications have been made within the past three years." Once an application has been rejected, mobile firms would then not be able to submit a similar application for another five years.
Field's private member's bill comes at a time when network operators are putting in planning applications for the extra masts they will need to run 3G networks, and this explosion of applications has been met with protests in some parts of Britain. Hutchison 3G, a newcomer to the UK's mobile market, is reported to have met opposition to its plans to install a 3G base station in Bexley Village. Local residents object to the plan, partly because the telephone exchange that Hutchison 3G wants to put its equipment on already holds two other base stations already -- belonging to Orange and O2 (formerly BT Cellnet). Local residents are expected to urge Bexley's planning control committee to reject the plan. A Hutchison 3G spokesman told ZDNet UK News that the mobile firm was keen to consult with local communities when deciding where to position new masts. He also said that Hutchison 3G was committed to a policy of sharing sites with other mobile operators where possible. "Members of the public do have concerns, and we always want to hear and address them. That's why we have eight people on our staff who are dedicated to working with and consulting local councils," explained the spokesman. Analysts expect that up to 35,000 new masts will be needed for 3G so Field's bill, if enacted, could impede the efforts of mobile firms to roll out their 3G networks across Britain. According to Hutchison 3G, their rollout plans aren't being hampered yet. "In general terms our rollout, both in terms of shared and new sites, is running on target," said the Hutchison 3G spokesman.