Yorkshire’s national park authorities have warned the region’s most beautiful landscapes are under threat from “dangerous” legislation designed to speed up the roll-out of new internet and mobile phone services.
The bodies overseeing the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors have launched stinging attacks on plans to strip them of their power to influence the look and positioning of unsightly phone masts and telephone cabinets within the national parks.
Ministers insist the Draconian measures – part of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill currently making its way through Parliament – are necessary to ensure rural areas receive improved broadband and mobile phone coverage as quickly as possible.
But the two national park authorities have told the Yorkshire Post they are already supportive of efforts to improve communications in rural areas, and that the decision to strip them of their planning powers over telecoms developments for the next five years could have desperate consequences.
David Butterworth, chief executive the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “We don’t believe there needs to be a weakening of the existing legislation, and we cannot find any evidence to suggest that is needed or is justified. In fact, we believe it could set a dangerous precedent.
“National parks were established with a clear purpose to protect their landscapes, wildlife and heritage. It is not appropriate to pick and choose when such protection should be afforded.”
His stance was shared by Chris France, director of planning at the North York Moors National Park Authority, who said he actively lobbied communications firms to build new phone masts and extend broadband coverage to all corners of the national park.
“We are puzzled as to why the Government believes it needs to set aside the policies which protect the region’s most fantastic landscapes,” he said.
“We have approved 100 per cent of telecoms applications put to us over the last five years.
“But every one of those applications has involved us making improvements and ensuring a better outcome. We negotiate; we put conditions on.
“Some of those would have been really harmful, but we worked with the developers and came up with different locations, different designs. All this will do is weaken our case.
“It is addressing a problem that does not exist. It is based on a perception rather than reality.”
In a Commons debate, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary and Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn said the proposals “give rise to concern”.
He said: “(They) seem to propose to scrap the special protection enjoyed by our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and to allow telecoms companies to install cabinets and masts wherever they want.
“The current protection cannot be allowed to be undermined by the Government’s desire to look as though they are doing something about growth.”
But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles insisted the measure would not signal a “free-for-all”, and that local authorities would still be consulted for the opinion.
“The Bill will remove the excessive red tape that hinders superfast broadband from being rolled out,” he said. “It will especially help those parts of rural Britain facing a digital divide.
“It was telecommunications deregulation in the 1980s that created the modern communications industry we enjoy today.
“Satellite dishes can be put up without planning permission – why should we not be able to do the same with 21st-century broadband technology?”