Councillors have approved plans to erect a 35m-tall communications mast near Masham to boost 4G coverage in rural areas.
Mobile infrastructure provider Cornerstone submitted plans to North Yorkshire Council to build the tower in Ox Close Plantation, Healey, where a report said existing 4G coverage is “spasmodic”.
The application is part of the Shared Rural Network venture, which is a £1bn drive between government and operators Vodafone, Three and Virgin Media-O2 to improve the UK’s digital connectivity.
However, because the plantation sits within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which has strict planning laws, a council officer recommended the application was refused to preserve the “scenic beauty” of the AONB.
But at a meeting of the Skipton & Ripon planning committee in Skipton yesterday afternoon, councillors ignored the recommendation and enthusiastically backed the mast proposal due to its positive impact on residents and businesses in the area.
A statement was read out on behalf of Lib Dem division councillor Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, who has previously campaigned for better rural internet connectivity.
Whilst she said she supported the plans, her statement informed councillors that she has an interest as her husband owns the land that the mast would be built on so would receive rent.
Cllr Cunliffe-Lister’s statement said: “Life without this connectivity would become very challenging and become harder as services such as banking come online. Any concern about impact on landscape should be considered but not given priority.”
Veteran Skipton councillor Robert Heseltine said the plans should be approved “as a matter of principle” so rural communities can receive the same services as urban ones.
Cllr Heseltine said: “Residents and businesses of rural North Yorkshire have an absolute expectation to receive the same service as the rest of this nation. Communications are a necessity for the safety of the public and viability of farming and rural businesses.”
Ripon councillor Andrew Williams said there are exceptions for building in the AONB and the Yorkshire Dales and referred to the giant “golf balls” at RAF Menwith Hill which “obliterate” the landscape and the Bilsdale television transmitter.
Cllr Williams said: “The landscape has always changed and will continue to change. Here are people who are unable to work from home, they can’t get any form of communication, that has an impact on running businesses. It’s not for townies to impose rules and restrictions on rural communities that makes them impossible to be viable. The plans are to be welcomed.”
The plans were approved unamimously.