A plan to address the urban-rural digital divide by erecting a 25m-high lattice tower and several satellite dishes close to the most popular walking routes in the Yorkshire Dales should be approved despite its “significant impact” on the highly protected landscape, a report has concluded.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority planning officers have recommended infrastructure services company Cornerstone’s proposal for a site beside the path leading to the summit of Buckden Pike be approved after it emerged residents of Buckden and Hubberholme otherwise faced no mobile coverage later this year.
While the site, remote grazing land on a shelf to the north of Buckden, has a much smaller mast installed providing a patchy 3G mobile service under Vodafone’s ROSS programme, this is due to be decommissioned this year.
The proposal is part of the Shared Rural Network, a Government-backed scheme between mobile network operators to get geographical coverage from at least one operator to 95 per cent of the UK, particularly in areas where it masts are not commercially viable.
The initiative has until June next year to have the sites constructed and operational.
If approved at a meeting at the authority’s Wensleydale headquarters on Tuesday, alongside reliable 4G mobile connectivity, the area would become one of several similar schemes in the national park which will also see the choice of operators extended to Vodafone, Telefonica and Three.
In its planning application, Cornerstone stated: “There are many rural areas in the UK which are partial not spots. That is, there is only coverage with one mobile network operator.
“It will improve services whilst limiting the environmental impact through reduced proliferation and a minimised number of sites.”
North Yorkshire Council has supported the proposal, and in a statement to the national park warned against rejecting it, with an officer warning: “This initiative is not something that will be repeated by Government in the near
“The Government intervention is required because a number of installations such as this one are not commercially viable in rural areas.”
Buckden Parish Council has also enthusiastically backed the venture, saying while the proposal would have a significant detrimental visual impact, it wanted to avoid the risk of the village being left without any mobile service for a period of time.
The parish council said the decision over the mast would have “a very material, 15 to 20-year impact on the quality of life and the sustainability of the social and economic community in the parish, and the potential to compromise the safety of walkers and residents.
It stated: “A small number of households have voiced strong opposition to the proposal, although the majority have been supportive. The opinions of current residents are clearly important, but they are not the only stakeholders in this
decision, and future residents and the many visitors will also benefit from the proposal.”
However, both the National Trust, which owns the land, and some residents said alternative less intrusive solutions had not been fully explored.
They said the mobile equipment near an iconic footpath route would be “an alien and obtrusive feature of detrimental visual impact to the natural landscape, widely visible from Hubberholme and Buckden and along those dales.
Another resident wrote: “The purpose of this erection is purely an economic proposition so that revenue streams are maximised without any concern or consideration of the basic and fundamental purposes of having designated national park.
“Another comment was that residents will more easily be able to work from home. This does not require the sort of installation referred and I current and successfully work from home, communicating with offices in the capital and throughout the world. We do not need this type of ugly industrial mast facility to promote working from home.”
Recommending the scheme’s approval, planning officers concluded: “Although great weight is given to the need to conserve and enhance landscape and scenic beauty the public benefits of the proposal are significant and must also be given considerable weight.”