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English Planning Policy and Practice - Material Considerations

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Material Considerations

"In principle ... any consideration which relates to the use and development of land is capable of being a planning consideration. Whether a particular consideration falling within that broad class is material in any given case will depend on the circumstances". (Stringer –v- MHLG [1971])1 All ER, 65

Paragraph 11 The Planning System: General Principles goes on "Material considerations must be genuine planning considerations, i.e. they must be related to the development and use of land in the public interest. The considerations must also fairly and reasonably relate to the application concerned (R v Westminster CC ex-parte Monahan 1989)."

Paragraphs 12 to 15 of the same document continues

"12. The Courts are the arbiters of what constitutes a material consideration. All the fundamental factors involved in land-use planning are included, such as the number, size, layout, siting, design and external appearance of buildings and the proposed means of access, together with landscaping, impact on the neighbourhood and the availability of infrastructure.

13. The Courts have also held that the Government's statements of planning policy are material considerations which must be taken into account, where relevant, in decisions on planning applications. These statements cannot make irrelevant any matter which is a material consideration in a particular case. But where such statements indicate the weight that should be given to relevant considerations, decision-makers must have proper regard to them. If they elect not to follow relevant statements of the Government's planning policy, they must give clear and convincing reasons (E C Grandsen and Co Ltd v SSE and Gillingham BC 1985).

14. Emerging policies, in the form of draft policy statements and guidance, can be regarded as material considerations, depending on the context. Their existence may indicate that a relevant policy is under review; and the circumstances which have led to that review may need to be taken into account.

15. In those cases where the Development Plan is not relevant, for example because there are no relevant policies, or policies in the DPDs pull in opposite directions so that there is no clear guide for a particular proposal, the planning application (or planning appeal) should be determined on its merits in the light of all the material considerations".

It is clear that what will be a material consideration in any given circumstance may well vary. Hence, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list. However, in the determination of many telecommunications applications and appeals the following have been considered material:

National Planning Policy
Emerging Plans
Supplementary Planning Guidance and Documents
The examination of alternative sites
Health effects
Public perception of concern about harm to health
Views of local residents
Other appeal decisions
Telecommunications Code of Best Practice
The use of "Code Powers"

Health Effects

Mobile phones and their base stations operate by transmitting and receiving signals using electromagnetic waves (also referred to as electromagnetic fields (EMFs) or radio waves). EMFs are all around us. They occur naturally and also arise from a wide range of man-made sources.

Established health effects of exposure to radio waves from mobile phone systems are associated with the heating of tissue. Both the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) (and its predecessor the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB)) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) have published guidelines on limiting exposure to radio waves.

The public's increasing awareness of the presence of EMFs in the environment has been accompanied by concern that exposure to EMFs may have possible adverse effects upon health. Notwithstanding the advice of HPA, there has been some public concern whether exposure to low-level EMFs might cause other, 'non-established' health effects, such as headaches, sleep disturbance, depression, stress and also long term health effects such as cancer.

In 1999, the Government asked the NRPB to set up the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP). This Group, under the chairmanship of Sir William Stewart FRS FRSE, considered concerns about health effects from the use of mobile phones, base stations and transmitters. They conducted a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of existing research and gathered a wide range of views. The Group published its report on 11 May 2000.

In respect of base stations, the report concludes that "the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the guidelines. However, there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in some cases". The report also states that the possibility of harm cannot be ruled out with confidence and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.

The Government accepted the precautionary approach advised by the IEGMP though its acceptance is limited to the specific recommendations in the Group's report and the Government's response to them.

Of particular significance to the consideration of telecommunications proposals is the requirement that the emissions from mobile phones base stations should meet the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure. All mobile phone base stations meet the ICNIRP guidelines and the audit undertaken by the Radiocommunications Agency since 2001 of existing base stations has found that all base stations surveyed by it also comply.

Office of Communications website

A range of update reports have been produced since 2000 both by the HPA and the ICNIRP and others.

In 2007, the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme published a report summarising the results of the work it had funded since 2001. It concluded that none of the research had provided evidence of biological effects or health effects below guideline levels. Nevertheless there is still a need for good research and it could not rule out the possibility of long-term effects. The MTHR research programme was set up in response to a recommendation from the Stewart Report and is jointly funded by Government and industry. Its independence is safeguarded by a committee of experts who review the research proposals and monitor each project. Scientists receiving funds from MTHR are encouraged to publish their results in peer reviewed science journals.


Ten Commitments

Central to the operators’ approach to network development is consultation with local communities, planning officers and other stakeholders on any proposed new developments. Pre-application consultation is included in the operators’ ‘Ten Commitments to Best Siting Practice’, which has existed since 2001 to help address concerns relating to the development of base stations, and which is now contained in planning guidance throughout the UK.

Sharing Sites

Mobile phone users in the UK increasingly want better coverage and greater capacity so they can access more services on their phones. While this means that new base stations will still be needed, network operators seek to share sites wherever possible. Site sharing helps reduce energy consumption and the overall environmental footprint of networks, as well as improving the quality of coverage.