INDUSTRY COMMENT: 5G PRESENTS BETTER CONNECTIONS FOR RURAL BUSINESS
by JOANNE HALTON
Given the daily changes at Westminster currently, we were surprised but pleased to hear that Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary has announced the launch of The Rural Connected Communities Competition.
The competition is designed to establish 10 rural test areas for the application of 5G technology. The minister announced, ‘We’re committed to securing widespread mobile coverage and must make sure we have the right planning laws to give the UK the best infrastructure to stay ahead’. We welcome this sentiment and hope it marks a genuine commitment to ‘rural proofing’. The British countryside is home to many pioneering diversification projects. The recent announcement will boost opportunities for more innovative and diverse projects in the future but we ask, does it go far enough?
The rural area is still blighted by poor connectivity in many places, which hampers sustainable economic growth holding back opportunities for many rural businesses. The aim of this initiative is to ensure that rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age.
The Government accepts that people expect to be connected wherever they are and as such they have announced that they are committed to securing widespread mobile coverage. In addition to this initiative a consultation on planning reforms has been announced, running until 4th November, which aims to make sure that the right planning laws are in place to facilitate the necessary infrastructure improvements.
The consultation looks at potential changes to permitted development rights for mobile infrastructure in England, which include:
- changing the permitted height of new masts to deliver better mobile coverage;
- allowing existing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be more easily upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing;
- deploying radio equipment cabinets on protected and unprotected land without prior approval, excluding sites of special scientific interest; and
- allowing building-based masts nearer to roads to support 5G and increase mobile coverage.
Views are also being sought on what measures the industry could offer to mitigate the impact of any new infrastructure, for example, promoting better sharing of existing sites by providers and stricter controls on the removal of redundant technology.
The aim of these changes is to seek to remove obstacles to the 5G roll out, whilst seeking to minimise the need to build new infrastructure.
There is a concern as to how this will be received in locations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Conservation Areas and this is not mentioned but the rural requirement for connectivity can sometimes clash with the desire to also protect and enhance our great landscapes.
Another issue to overcome is the network’s reluctance to pay high rents for mast sites where there is a very low population and how to get landowners to release land for these.
However, this intention to advance technology in the rural environment is a welcome change. The new Agriculture Bill requires us to provide public goods on one hand and greater productivity on the other. If 5G can deliver what we are told it can, it may be key to opening up new opportunities for diversification and rural business as well as making our agricultural output more efficient and productive.
If you would like any further information in relation to the Government Consultation or the impact of 5G on your rural business, please contact us to discuss.