Follow Us on Twitter

Northern Irish Planning Policy and Practice

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

All new transmitters are now subject to the Full Planning process and the old General Development Order or 'permitted development' regulations that applied to some mobile phone transmitters have been revoked.

Previously, only sites proposed to be built in special planning areas (such as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) or sites taller than 15m in height were subject to Full Planning. All other sites could be approved through the time-limited 'permitted development' process. Under this process, the DoE Planning Service had 42 days after receiving the planning application in which to either approve the application or advise the applicant of any appropriate changes that would be required - for example, painting the structure or screening it with trees. The Planning Service could also have withdrawn 'permitted development' rights and required the site to go through Full Planning.

During this 42-day period, the Planning Service was responsible for notifying the local Council and advertising the application in local newspapers.

Following the publication of the Stewart Report (May 2000), the Department of the Environment Planning Service began a consultation process on the future of planning for mobile phone sites in Northern Ireland. In July 2001, the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly announced its intention to introduce Full Planning for all future mobile phone sites, although it would take another year before the legislation was changed accordingly and the old 'General Development Order' regulations were removed.

The decision-making process for planning applications, including mobile phone sites, is slightly different in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK. In Northern Ireland the Divisional Office of the Planning Service will examine each application and recommend it either for approval or rejection. Each month a DoE Planning Officer will present their recommendations to the relevant local Council. Councillors can only call for the Planning Service's decision to be deferred, or for a site (or office) meeting to be held to discuss an application further. Ultimately, the decision rests with the Planning Service.

In April 2008 the Department for the Environment published Development Control Advice Note (DCAN) 14 'Siting and Design of Radio Telecommunications Equipment.' DCAN 14 provides supplementary planning guidance to support Planning Policy Statement 10 'Telecommunications.' The document includes advice on the process of site selection and illustrates how radio telecommunications equipment can be sensitively installed. Its contents will be material to decisions on individual planning applications and appeals.

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.