5G mobile phone masts are sprouting up all over the country and most people would agree that there is a real need for them. However, as a High Court ruling showed, they are not wholly exempt from planning rules and they cannot be located just anywhere.
A mobile phone company argued that erection of a 15-metre-high mast in an urban street was vital to secure 5G coverage in the area. The proposal would ordinarily have been automatically permitted. The local authority's prior approval was, however, required because the site was in a conservation area.
Approval was refused on the basis that the mast and its accompanying cabinets would be an incongruous addition to the street scene. The council also took the view that the development would be visually intrusive, create visual clutter and detract from the area's character and appearance.
After the company appealed against that decision, a planning inspector found that the proposal would harm the setting of the conservation area and a neighbouring cottage. Granting the approval sought, however, he concluded that the harm would be less than substantial and was outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal.
In upholding a challenge to the approval brought by the cottage's owner, the Court found that the inspector failed to consider the potential impact of the development on the root system of a nearby English yew, which was protected by a tree preservation order.
The inspector further failed to grapple with the question of whether 5G facilities could be accommodated on the site of an existing mast which was located on the same street and only about 100 metres away. The inspector's decision was quashed and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was directed to redetermine the company's appeal.