The World of Planning

The World of Planning

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Sean McHenry, National Planning and Community Manager at Cornerstone provides a fascinating insight into the world of National Planning.

Can you introduce the Cornerstone planning department?

The Planning Department at Cornerstone manage all the town planning activities and act as an in-house consultancy providing guidance on Town Planning matters. This includes providing advice on site identification and design or acting as Expert Witness at Tribunal. We establish processes and manuals on how we and our suppliers work and handle site-specific consultations with various stakeholders such as Government, Local Authorities, or elected representatives. We also manage the submission of the various types of applications and appeals. We are involved in various types of Planning reform associated with telecoms infrastructure deployment including providing subject matter expert advice to our customers, Government Relations departments, and the industry trade-body at MobileUK. This often involves working directly with the central and devolved Government as major stakeholder consultees in the writing of new planning legislation, supplementary guidance, and policy. The Planning Department carries out most of the publicly accessible work and deals with the public, their representatives, and public organisations.

What is the process for planning permission in Cornerstone?

For a new build site, planning guidance should be at the very earliest stage. Here, the planning agent can advise on sensitive designations or local amenity issues. This gets fed into a site finders report (SFR) and assists in the most appropriate siting option for progression. Post nomination, there will be a multi-skilled visit (MSV) (A site visit to determine if the site is suitable to host our mobile infrastructure).

From this MSV, drawings will be created for the proposal. These are sent to local stakeholders such as the Local Planning Authority (LPA), Councillors, schools, MPs, Community Groups, Parish Councils, etc. We will involve the LPA for a pre-application engagement at the earliest stage. If we are doing a large rollout with a single LPA, we will engage with them on a more strategic level, so they can understand the bigger picture before they start to receive numerous site-specific consultation requests.

Post pre-application engagement, we will prepare and submit the application or notification for the LPA. Assuming an application is required (as opposed to a notification to utilise permitted development rights), the LPA must determine whether to approve or refuse consent.

Town Planning seeks to achieve ‘sustainable development’ for the public greater good, and sustainable development is deemed to be a balance of environmental impacts against socio-economic benefit. Different weights are attached to these ‘material considerations’ depending upon policy and local site-specific sensitivities. For this reason, our applications will include site-specific discussion and assessment on these aspects, assessing the proposal against local and national planning policies. The LPA will use this assessment, with the responses from other consultees such as Conservation Officers or the public, to make their final determination.

What happens if we don’t get planning permission for a site build?

If we don’t gain the required consent, we will assess the reasons for refusal. If we can overcome the issues, we will resubmit by providing more information, or make amendments to the siting, height, or design. Often, we will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate – a national Government level third party. Sometimes, it may be impossible to overcome, and in these cases, we will have to cancel the option and nominate a new site. 

Do we have different processes set for the different regions?

The UK's four nations – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – all have various nuances in terms of the planning system, legislation, policy and supplementary guidance. However, while we take account of these regional differences, our processes remain aligned.

What is permitted development rights?

Permitted development rights (PDR) is a national grant of planning permission that allows certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without having to make a planning application, as they are deemed as approved in law (the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO).

There are two different types of PDR – with and without ‘prior approval.’ In cases with prior approval, an application is still required to the Local Planning Authority (LPA). The principle of the development is established in law, and determination can be made on siting and appearance only. There is a statutory 56-day (28 days for some rooftop development in protected areas in Scotland) deadline for determination, though this can be extended by agreement between the parties to mitigate issues and find mutual solutions. If the LPA does not decide within that statutory period, then we are granted ‘lawful deemed consent’ by legal default.

In cases where we have permitted development without prior approval there is no need to submit an application to the LPA. We simply must submit a notification letter to the LPAs detailing our intention to utilise PDRs and detailing what the proposal is. After that, we can go on to site and build within 28 days of the notification letter.

Given we have such rights we must apply them reasonably and responsibly by taking account of local sensitivities and follow best practice commitments.

Cornerstone has been engaging with central and devolved governments over the past number of years – resulting in the adoption of new PDR in Wales (2019), Northern Ireland (Dec 2020) and Scotland (April 2021). These are all positive reforms to help promote deployment of our infrastructure. We have also worked with the Welsh Government to deliver a new Welsh Code of Best Practice (March 2021) and are currently engaging with the UK Government on a new English Code of Practice to be adopted in parallel with the new English PDRs in late Autumn. These reforms will have a significant benefit on our ability to deliver leading-edge connectivity to the UK. 

What are Cornerstone’s best practices in getting planning permission?

Cornerstone’s best practice commitments are established in the Code of Best Practice (CoBP) – each UK nation has a slight variation of this, and this CoBP is in the process of review with the Government.

Siting/design best practice commitments include elements such as:

  • using existing sites
  • site sharing to reduce proliferation
  • minimising impact upon sensitive heritage assets
  • minimising the impact on sensitive landscapes
  • respecting residential amenity
  • minimising street scene impact
  • reducing contrast by utilising appropriate colouring in design etc.

We apply these principles pragmatically on a site-specific basis.

So, as you can tell, planning mobile infrastructure follows a very thorough, robust process involving lots of different stakeholders and community who together, enable Cornerstone to deliver the mobile connectivity we depend on.