MOBILE phone operators should provide local planning authorities with a catalogue of designs when new masts and cabinets are submitted for approval, Hillingdon Council has demanded.
Following an eight-month review of the way that major telecom firms such as Vodafone, Orange and O2 design and build new equipment, the council has set itself a goal of influencing not just national, but international law.
Hillingdon’s deputy mayor, Councillor Michael Markham (Con, Manor), has spearheaded efforts to make masts and cabinets less offensive to residents who live by them. The review was prompted by a proliferation of planning applications from mobile giants in and around the borough.
Its other recommendations include tightening planning rules to ensure removal of redundant equipment, providing councils with more guidance, forcing BT and Virgin to submit planning applications for the siting of their cabinets and that phone companies be encouraged to share their masts.
Mr Markham is chairman of the sub-committee which had quizzed industry experts at Uxbridge Civic Centre, including those from the big operators.
He said: “Residents are becoming ever more critical of the number and scale of applications for new mobile phone masts and cabinets.
“We can’t stop the development of telecommunication technology, but by having a choice of designs, planning departments will be able to make sure that they are less environmentally offensive.”
On Thursday last week, the council cabinet gave its full endorsement to the ‘comprehensive and groundbreaking’ report from the residents’ and environmental services policy overview committee on mitigating the effects of telecommunication equipment across the UK and beyond.
It described how the telecommunications market was expected to see record growth over the next five years. In 2011, total revenue increased by two per cent to £35.6billion and in 2015, the value of the market is forecasted to reach £40.7bn.
This year also sees the introduction of a new signal technology, 4G, which is likely to lead to further applications for new equipment.
Meanwhile, new masts are still being built to extend the coverage of 3G signals.
One such bid was submitted in April for a new 15 metre-high mast at the junction of Swakeleys Drive and Warren Road, in Ickenham.
But of even greater concern to the council is the spread of unsightly equipment cabinets.
A competition has been launched for urban artists to provide designs to brighten up boxes on Uxbridge High Street and, if successful, the colourful designs could be rolled out across the borough.
In the meantime, the ‘constructive and far-reaching proposals’ in the council’s report will be taken to the highest levels – mobile phone operators, the industry regulator Ofcom and central government.