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There are many loopholes within the telecommunications planning processes, these are all set out in the relevant topic heading briefings, in this briefing we look specifically at the effects of the new rail phone system, and potential challenges. To make it clear we are only dealing here with the internal Network Rail system, and not those installations by normal mast operators on Network Rail land, which still have to go through the normal planning procedures.

As a consequence of recent rail disasters and the subsequent inquiries Rail Track has started to role- out a new communication system right across the rail network. In doing this they are looking to capitalise on a piece of legislation that was clearly not intended for this purpose.

The Town & Country Planning (General permitted Development) Order 1995 is a standard piece of secondary legislation for those in the mast movement, which under Part 24 provides the process for 90% of all permissions, as well as many of the loopholes. However, for installations by Network Rail we are looking at Part 17 'A', a copy can be downloaded from:

However, it is a very short passage so we set it out here for ease of reference:

The important words are 'on their operational land, required in connection with the movement of traffic by rail'. Clearly the installation must not simply be on land owned by Rail Track, but must be on operational land, that is land that is actually used for the rail network, much railway land is let or leased to others, and other parts are dormant, therefore we would classify this as land within the boundary of the present rail network (which is normally fenced against public access).

From the wording of A.1(c) and A.2 it is clear that these installations cannot be put on outside of existing buildings, or structures, which I would take to include such equipment as power cable gantries. Therefore, all installations would require new purpose made masts, or placing of the antenna inside of existing buildings, or structures.

Now is it lawful, on the face of the wording of Part 17 then yes, however, the average installations is around 33m high. If installations of that height came within Part 24 then they would require full planning permission, as they are clearly over the maximum 15 metres for a ground based mast.

But as we see it there are two potential routes of challenge, the first is a straight argument, is he system going to be used solely in connection with the movement of rail traffic. If not then this process is not open to this type of installation. So we need to analyse what use could a telecommunication system be used in connection with the movement of rail traffic. Clearly, maintenance crew, drivers, guards, signalling staff and other controllers might come within this definition. But what about stewards, they are about service of passengers not the movement of rail stock, what of station porters, cleaners, security, British Transport Police none of these could be said to be in connection with the movement of rail traffic, albeit they might be connected to controlling passengers, or serving the needs of the passengers, they contribute nothing to the movement of rail traffic.

So you might argue, what are Rail Track to have two separate communication systems, of course not that would be a nonsense. What we are talking about here is not whether there should be a new communication system, but whether Rail Track can have a special status that allows them to by pass all controls on the installation of telecommunication apparatus. Our case is based upon them being subject to the same restrictions as other telecommunication system operators. We illustrate this from conflicts within other sections of the GPDO, Part 24 is a clear example, although Part 24 is intended solely for use by Code System Operators, Rail Track does not come within that remit. But Part 24 is clearly intended to exercise some control over the size and siting of installations, whereas if Rail Track goes ahead with their plans then there will be no control.

Our arguments on this point is that Rail Track using this process cannot use the system for any purpose other than in the aid of the movement of rail traffic. One other use would make the permission invalid. Rail Track in their report - Supplementary Information to the 2000 NMS state at page 21:

Since our campaign against these installations being installed without any local planning permission, the Rail Track Regulators WEB site has removed the document that sets out the proposals, however Planning Sanity has a copy of the document which can be supplied on request.

From this it will be seen particularly from the last paragraph that the system will be used for all Rail Networks needs, therefore the approvals cannot in our view be approved through the process set out in GPDO Part 17.

There is also Part 25, this is potentially more interesting, however at the time of writing this briefing we are still not sure exactly what system of communications, or the frequencies that Rail Track are to use. Part 25 'A' refers to 'microwave antennas'. In all reality the system that Rail Track will be using will be some form of microwave system.

GPDO - Part 25

Permitted development

A. The installation, alteration or replacement on any building or other structure of a height of 15 metres or more of a microwave antenna and any structure intended for the support of a microwave antenna.

Development not permitted

A.1 Development is not permitted by Class A if-

  1. the building is a dwellinghouse or the building or other structure is within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse;
  2. it would consist of development of a kind described in paragraph A of Part 24;
  3. the development would result in the presence on the building or structure of more than two microwave antennas;
  4. in the case of a satellite antenna, the size of the antenna, including its supporting structure but excluding any projecting feed element, would exceed 90 centimetres;
  5. in the case of a terrestrial microwave antenna-
    1. the size of the antenna, when measured in any dimension but excluding any projecting feed element, would exceed 1.3 metres; and
    2. the highest part of the antenna or its supporting structure would be more than 3 metres higher than the highest part of the building or structure on which it is installed or is to be installed;
  6. it is on article 1(5) land; or
  7. it would consist of the installation, alteration or replacement of system apparatus within the meaning of section 8(6) of the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Act 1989[54] (definitions of driver information systems etc.).


A.2 Development is permitted by Class A subject to the following conditions-

  1. the antenna shall, so far as is practicable, be sited so as to minimise its effect on the external appearance of the building or structure on which it is installed;
  2. an antenna no longer needed for the reception or transmission of microwave radio energy shall be removed from the building or structure as soon as reasonably practicable.

If Rail tracks system is a microwave system them they would fall within the remit of this Part, even if they are also covered by Part 17, there would then clearly be a conflict between the two systems, and as Part 17 is clearly not intended to be specifically for a telecommunication system, then we argue that Part 25 should prevail. We come to this view because within Part 25 there are specific exclusions that relate to other types of radio telecommunications, namely those set out in Part 24 and those covered by Section 8(6) of the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Act 1989. Clearly if Parliament had intended other systems to be excluded then they would have been set out in this Part. Therefore we conclude that if Part 24 does not apply then Part 25 clearly does. Which means that all installations over 15 metres would require full planning permission. Although we would still have the problem of installations under 15 metres.

Which brings us onto the next point that of Human Rights. Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Principles (ECHR). Our Human Rights Forum has copies of the relevant documents and a general briefing on human rights.

In this specific aspect we would argue that your right to make a comment on the decision to grant permission (Part 17 is effectively the grant of planning permission) has been denied to the public, due to the special provisions contained within Part 17 of the GPDO. Therefore, Part 17 in as far as it might (but that we do not admit that it does) affect telecommunication installations is not compatible with the Convention Rights granted under Article 6.1. However, the local planning authority cannot take that into account to force an application to be made, such forcing would have to come from the courts.

None of this will get any of these applications before a planning committee for proper determination until they have first gone to court and the courts have determined the legal position. This can be achieved in two ways, the first is to persuade the local authority to take enforcement action on the basis that the installation comes under the remit of Part 24 and not Part 17. Or that a member of the public, seeks a declaration from the High Court as to the compatibility of Part 17 with Article 6.1 of the ECHR.

Those affected the installations therefore need to lobby their local authorities to take enforcement action (standard letter), as well as lobbying Lord Rooker the Planning Minister, details below. Or if any local communities want to take legal action and they are eligible for Legal Aid (see our briefing on legal aid) then if they contact us we shall look at how best we can help.

Overall we are looking at how we can bring about changes in the legislation to bring all telecommunication installations that are approved using one of the many loopholes brought into the full planning process, this is a high priority for Planning Sanity in 2004, we therefore need details of all installations installed under any loophole provision.

The Government are proposing to update the General Permitted Development Order, in particular they are looking to make some changes to take some phone masts clearly out of the equation. The provisions are to make those installations over 15 metres that are in sensitive areas such as conservation areas subject to full planning permission. Planning Sanity have mixed views on these proposals, whilst at first look they appear to be a move in the right direction, however, they mean that if approved it will legitimise the vast majority of masts being installed without any local planning permission. We are therefore on balance opposed to the provisions, and will be looking to raise these at our next meeting with the Planning Minister

The propsed update of the GPDO can be found at The reference to Netrail is on page 152 paragraph 21.79 of the document.

Contacts & Information

Keith Hill MP
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
26 Whitehall

Tel: 020 7944 3012
Fax: 020 7944 4489

Network Rail
125 House
1 Gloucester Street
Wiltshire SN1 1GW

Local Campaigns

New Mill - Marlboorough Netrail Email Discussion List This is for all issues related to Network Rail internal phone masts.

Planning Sanity - June 2004 (can be freely used by local communities within their campaigns. Publication by third parties is permitted providing acknowledgement of Planning Sanity is given)

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