9.4.1Modern telecommunications and other utilities such as electricity infrastructure, are essential and beneficial elements of everyday living for everyone who lives, works or visits our Borough. It is important to continue to support investment in high quality infrastructure which plays a vital role in the social and economic wellbeing of Mid and East Antrim.
9.4.2Power lines and overhead cables are important in ensuring our homes, businesses and services throughout the Borough are well connected to a safe, secure and reliable energy infrastructure network. Being home to Kilroot and Ballylumford Power Stations, Mid and East Antrim occupies a key strategic location in relation to the Northern Ireland energy network.
9.4.3Access to reliable high speed digital infrastructure is also key to ensuring our businesses remain competitive and helps to grow a sustainable local economy. Mid and East Antrim is serviced by the four main mobile network providers who all offer 4G coverage. Some rural parts of our Borough continue to suffer from poor indoor mobile coverage and 4G access, in particular areas east of Ballymena, west of Larne, and to the north of Carrickfergus. In relation to superfast broadband services (>30Mbs), availability ranges from 82% to 97% across our main towns, however, in some rural areas, particularly south of Ballymena, north and east of Broughshane, and south of Larne, there remains a deficit in terms of availability of broadband speeds. The ‘Connected Nations Report – Northern Ireland’ (Ofcom 2018) estimates that 5% of premises in Mid and East Antrim are still unable to get 10Mbs.
9.4.4The RDS and SPPS both recognise Northern Ireland’s core telecommunications network as world class, but highlight that continued investment in infrastructure is vital to maintain a competitive advantage to enable strong economic growth. The aim of the SPPS in relation to telecommunications and other utilities is to facilitate the development of such infrastructure in an efficient and effective manner whilst keeping the environmental impact to a minimum. Ensuring that visual and environmental impact of such development is kept to a minimum; that mast and site sharing is accommodated; that interference to radio spectrum users is minimised; and that telecommunications systems are designed into other forms of development, are all regional strategic objectives of the SPPS.
9.4.5The LDP strategic approach to telecommunications and utilities infrastructure is set out in our policy aims below. These policy aims fully embrace the above-mentioned regional strategic objectives and guidelines for LDPs set out in the SPPS.
To facilitate the development of telecommunications and utilities infrastructure in appropriate locations to support sustainable economic growth; and
To minimise the environmental impact of telecommunications and utilities infrastructure.
9.4.6The policy aims will be delivered through the strategic policy set out in the remainder of this section.
Policy TOC1 Telecommunications Development and Overhead Cables
Outside of Special Countryside Areas, a proposal for telecommunications development or overhead cables together with any necessary enabling works, will be permitted where it meets the General Policy and accords with other provisions of the LDP. In addition, the applicant must demonstrate that all the following criteria are met:
There is a need for the proposed development at that location;
The proposal minimises visual intrusion;
The proposal avoids sensitive locations or features, unless it is clearly demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Council as to why this cannot be achieved; and
The proposal meets the ICNIRP46 guidelines for public exposure to electromagnetic fields.
In addition, a proposal for a new mast or base station must also demonstrate that the sharing of an existing mast or other structure has been fully explored and is not feasible, or the proposal represents a better environmental solution.
In the case of overhead lines, wirescape should be kept to a minimum. In urban areas, applicants will also be required to demonstrate that it cannot be provided underground.
Where a proposal is located within an Area of Constraint on High Structures Policy CS3 will be applied. the applicant must demonstrate that other alternative options have been investigated but considered inappropriate or not feasible. Such proposals will be restricted to 15 metres in height (above existing ground level) in these areas.
In the exceptional circumstances that the proposal is to serve a recognised telecommunications ‘not spot’, or is for essential electricity transmission or supply, a 25 metre height restriction will be applied.
Structures that exceed 25 metres in height will only be approved if it can be clearly demonstrated that the development proposal is of such regional significance as to outweigh any detrimental impact on the landscape character and/or environmental integrity of the designated areas.
Applicants will also be required to ensure that upon decommissioning, all above-ground redundant structures, plant, buildings and associated infrastructure shall be removed and the site restored to an agreed standard appropriate to its location. These matters will need to be agreed with Council before planning permission is granted and appropriate conditions applied to any approval.
Justification and Amplification
9.4.7This policy seeks to facilitate the expansion of telecommunications operations to meet modern technical connectivity needs in a timely, co-ordinated and appropriate manner whilst minimising the visual and environmental impact of such development. The aim is that telecommunications equipment should become an accepted and unobtrusive feature of urban and rural areas.
9.4.8The Council recognises that telecommunications code system operators are obliged to provide their services to the public and have to work within the constraints of the technology to meet their licence requirements. For example, masts and antennas often require a particular operating height to allow signals to clear trees and buildings. Telecommunications development may therefore need particular locations in order to work effectively. There is also however a corresponding need for the Council to adequately control telecommunications development and their visual impact in order to protect landscapes, skylines and townscape character.
9.4.9Applicants will be expected to provide information about the purpose and need for the particular apparatus or equipment including a statement indicating its location, the height of antenna, the frequency and modulation characteristics, and details of power output. A declaration that the apparatus when operational will meet ICNIRP public exposure guidelines will also be required.
9.4.10Applicants must also demonstrate the need for the development and what alternatives have been considered where the proposal is located within or in proximity to sensitive landscapes or sites of archaeological, historical or natural environment value. Where there are no reasonable alternatives, and such locations cannot be avoided, extra care will be required to ensure that the visual and environmental impact of the telecommunications apparatus and any ancillary works are minimised. Individual circumstances will determine how this can best be achieved.
9.4.11In some cases, more detailed information on visual impact may also be required to assess the application such as photomontages, or a landscape or visual impact assessment.
9.4.12Telecommunications operators are encouraged to site share wherever possible. New masts will therefore only be considered where the applicant has demonstrated that site sharing is not feasible, or that the proposal offers an improved environmental solution. Applicants will be required to submit sufficient information which demonstrates that such considerations have been thoroughly assessed. In addition, operators should also consider:
Installing smaller antennas.
Integrating antennas and equipment as part of a building or street furniture; or so that they appear to be an integral part of a building, structure, or landscape
Installing a new mast, or using a new building or structure, only when other options are not possible or it represents a better environmental solution than other options.
9.4.13In granting permission, the Council will condition both the removal of any equipment that is no longer required for telecommunications purposes, and restoration of the site to the condition before the development took place.
9.4.14Investing in our electricity infrastructure is critical for maintaining energy security and ensuring we can meet our wider sustainable energy objectives. New and upgraded power lines are vital in contributing towards these objectives but need to be balanced carefully against the potential impacts on the environment and amenity.
9.4.15Overhead lines, especially those mounted on pylons, can be visually obtrusive in the landscape and every effort should be made to minimise their impact through integration within the landscape. Applicants should demonstrate how the visual intrusion of the proposal has been minimised. This may be assisted by designing proposals to follow the natural landscape features such as vegetation and tree cover. In open and exposed landscapes, structures should be setback from public roads, prominent ridgelines and vantage points where possible. In all cases, wirescape should be kept to a minimum, with preference being given to undergrounding services in sensitive locations such as historic landscapes, conservation areas etc.
9.4.16Overhead lines should be routed to minimise disturbance to current land use and farming practices and to minimise the number of crossings of other power lines, railway lines and roads. Sharp changes in direction should also be avoided to curtail the number of towers and pylons in the landscape. Overhead power lines and pylons should, wherever possible, avoid areas of landscape sensitivity such as the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB and designated areas of constraint. Historic sites and areas of nature conversation or archaeological interest should also be avoided. In some cases, more detailed information on visual impact may be required to assess the application such as photomontages, or a landscape or visual impact assessment.
9.4.17Any proposals for the development of new power lines or alterations to existing power lines must be accompanied by a statement declaring that the development will meet the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure to electromagnetic fields.
9.4.18In granting permission, the Council will condition the removal of any lines or equipment that are no longer required.