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Localism Bill

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The long-awaited and much anticipated Localism Bill has now been published, giving some more insight into the Government's agenda of devolving power away from the centre to local communities.

It will be interesting to see how ministers intend to reconcile the need for investment in and development of infrastructure, particularly mobile communications infrastructure, with their policy of giving local people much greater say in the development that occurs in their neighbourhoods.

It remains the case that, while the users of the UK's 80 million plus mobile connections want and expect to be able to use their devices anywhere and everywhere, a number of people don't want to have a phone mast – i.e., the infrastructure needed to allow their mobile services to operate – nearby. The Localism Bill will need to find a way to enable people to be fully engaged in the planning process, while facilitating appropriate development, which is vital, both economically and socially.

In a recent debate in the Lords, the Government set out its agenda for delivering high speed broadband networks, for the benefit of communities across the UK. This will undoubtedly include mobile broadband networks. How that objective will be delivered in the new planning system is not yet clear.

Going back to the Bill, while the detail of neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders will take some time to develop, what is already clear is that they could introduce a fundamental shift in how developers engage with local communities. Pre-application engagement will become increasingly important in getting community support for developments. In fact, the mobile operators have over a decade of experience of consulting with communities and other stakeholders at the pre-application stage, so there may be some useful lessons that other sectors can gain from the operators' experience.

Planning is still seen by many to be a barrier. However, a fully functioning planning system should be an enabler to good development, with the support of all stakeholders, including developers, local communities and local authorities. Whether the changes contained in the Localism Bill are able to deliver this is something that all interested stakeholders are keen to discover. 

Stuart Eke

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Mobile Operators Association

The Mobile Operators Association (MOA) represents the four UK mobile network operators – EE (the company that runs EE, Orange & T-Mobile in the UK), O2, Three, and Vodafone – on radio frequency (RF) health and safety, and related town planning issues associated with the use of mobile phone technology.

The Economy and Society

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. In early 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phones for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households, increasing from 44% in Q1 2014.