5G Masts – where are they unacceptable?

POSTED ON December 14, 2022 BY James Garry

We believe that, in consultation with local stakeholders, any proposed 5G apparatus should be in as inconspicuous a location as possible or disaggregated into smaller, less conspicuous arrays if this is achievable.

Experts say that the fifth generation of mobile internet – 5G – could achieve speeds at least 10 times faster than 4G, strengthening mobile phone signals in areas where reception is patchy. 5G is said to have the power to revolutionise daily lives, industries and public services by powering game-changing technologies such as virtual and augmented reality services and autonomous cars. It is certainly hard to miss the new masts that seem to be popping up with ever increasing frequency across Edinburgh.  Despite the technological benefits offered by this technology, communities across the city have not always welcomed the appearance of these all too conspicuous masts on their streets and around their neighbourhoods.

In Scotland and in Edinburgh, there are several policy papers and guidance documents that seek to minimise the impact of this necessary new technology on our city streets and in our neighbourhoods. For example, PAN 62 – Radio Telecommunications Siting and Design Principles aims to keep environmental impact to a minimum as does the City of Edinburgh Council’s ‘Communications Infrastructure’  guidance that aims to ensure minimal intrusiveness. And there is also, Local Development Plan policy RS 7 – Telecommunications which encourages the siting of telecommunications infrastructure where it is sensitively and imaginatively sited with the minimum environmental impact. This policy recognises the importance of telecommunications to economic competitiveness however telecommunications operators are required to demonstrate that all practicable options to minimise impacts have been explored and the best solution identified.  Nevertheless, telecoms related application are coming forward with increasing frequency in locations which residents and amenity groups regard as less than either sensitive or imaginative.

So, for example, when  in the middle of 2021 a new 5G mast on New Swanston Road  was approved, despite protests and hundreds of objections, residents were left less than happy and expressed their anger with Edinburgh Live. Locals felt that the mast, was a danger to pedestrians and out of keeping with the surrounding environment. Also last year, the Cockburn Association was approached by residents in the Juniper Green Conservation Area whose concerns were reported by the Edinburgh Evening News.  Having been alerted to the local impacts of this application we supported  their fight against  plans to locate a this colossal  5G mast in the middle of their conservation area and taking up half the pavement on a designated “Safer Route to School.

And at the start of this year, an application for a telecoms mast of Portobello High Street application was again brought to the Cockburn’s attention by concerned local stakeholders. Their fury at this application was expressed in a story carried by the Edinburgh Reporter. In our view, the proposed telecommunications equipment would have resulted in excessive visual clutter within the streetscape and negatively impacted on the visual quality of the wider street scene and, as such,  detracted from the amenity and special character of this Conservation Area and from residential amenity. It was our view that the application was not consistent with Policy Env 6 Conservation Areas – Development as it did not preserve or enhance the special character or appearance of the conservation area. We also said that application should certainly be refused if it was determined that the benefits of the proposed installation are deemed not to outweigh the harm caused  to the Conservation Area and if there is insufficient evidence that alternative sites or mast sharing opportunities have been adequately explored.

This application has now been refused with the planning officer stating that “The proposal will have an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the Portobello Conservation Area and would be unacceptable, having regard to section 64 of the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1997. The proposal does not comply with relevant policies of the adopted Edinburgh Local Development Plan.

In the last few weeks, another 5G mast application has bee refused.  As STV reported, a bid to install a 15-metre-high telephone mast on Waverley Bridge was thrown out by City planners out by planners over concerns about the impact on the city’s World Heritage status. We considered the siting of this mast to be inappropriate and we objected to this application when we saw it. We said that “ the proposed telecommunications equipment would result in excessive visual and physical clutter within the streetscape”.

There are currently several 5G installations awaiting assessment for planning officers which are either  in Conservation Areas and/or in close proximity  to Listed Buildings. In the light of the Portobello High Street refusal and the recent Waverley Bridge refusal, these decisions will be of interest.

We understand the essential requirement  for modern telecommunications infrastructure in our city and its importance to residents. However, we believe that, in consultation with local stakeholders, any proposed 5G apparatus should be in as inconspicuous a location as possible or disaggregated into smaller, less conspicuous arrays if this is achievable.

Companies should work with each other and with residents, following planning guidance,  to agree planned networks rather than pursue an ad hoc approach to planning applications putting wherever they see a spare bit of land or an opportunity.

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