Standing advice for planning consultations – Telecommunication masts in National Scenic Areas, National Parks and Wild Land Areas
Published: September 2023
This is standing advice to help planning applicants seeking permission for telecommunication mast developments within National Scenic Areas (NSAs), National Parks (NPs) and Wild Land Areas (WLAs). It was developed to support the roll out of the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network programme of telecommunication mast development to expand 4G connectivity.
Note that any further landscape advice regarding proposals within NPs is provided by the National Park Authority, including with respect to wild land interests and NSAs within NPs. NatureScot provides further advice where necessary regarding the effects on NP Special Landscape Qualities caused by proposals outwith the NP. This is in accordance with our Agreement on roles in advisory casework between NatureScot and Scottish National Park Authorities.
Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) states under Policy 24 - Digital Infrastructure the intent to “encourage, promote and facilitate the roll-out of digital infrastructure across Scotland to unlock the potential of all our places and the economy”. It goes on to state that “Development proposals for digital infrastructure will only be supported where:
- the visual and amenity impacts of the proposed development have been minimised through careful siting, design, height, materials and, landscaping, taking into account cumulative impacts and relevant technical constraints; and
- it has been demonstrated that, before erecting a new ground based mast, the possibility of erecting antennas on an existing building, mast or other structure, replacing an existing mast and/or site sharing has been explored”.
In relation to NSAs and NPs, NPF4 also states under Policy 4c that “Development proposals that will affect a…National Park, National Scenic Area…will only be supported where:
- The objectives of designation and the overall integrity of the areas will not be compromised; or
- Any significant adverse effects on the qualities for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by social, environmental or economic benefits of national importance”.
In relation to WLAs Policy 4g states that ‘Development proposals in areas identified as wild land in the NatureScot Wild Land Areas map will only be supported where the proposal:
- will support meeting renewable energy targets; or,
- is for small scale development directly linked to a rural business or croft, or is required to support a fragile community in a rural area.
All such proposals must be accompanied by a wild land impact assessment (WLIA) which sets out how design, siting, or other mitigation measures have been and will be used to minimise significant impacts on the qualities of the wild land, as well as any management and monitoring arrangements where appropriate’.
Pre-Application Information Requirements
The following information is required at the pre-application stage to ensure that all likely significant effects on the qualities of NSAs, NPs and WLAs are fully understood and captured:
- Design details with site layout plan (access tracks, compound, mast etc.).
- Design Statement that demonstrates siting optioneering, mitigation and final site selection process.
- Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) to a 10km radius using OS Terrain 5 or Terrain 50 base mapping and bare ground visibility with a viewing height of 2m; and including:
- visibility of mast components and any new access tracks identified using two different colours.
- proposed viewpoints for the assessment of effects on special landscape qualities (AESLQ) of NSAs/NPs. We are in the process of finalising a consultative draft of guidance for the assessment of effects on special landscape qualities, which will be available on our website later this year.
- proposed viewpoints for the assessment of effects on the qualities of WLAs.
- NSA/NP/WLA boundaries and other landscape designations within the 10km radius study area.
- Cumulative ZTV (CZTV) where other masts are proposed within the 10km radius study area to show any intervisibility between proposed masts; as well as a separate CZTV to show all existing and consented masts.
- Special Landscape Qualities (SLQs) and Wild Land Qualities (WLQs) scoped in for assessment.
Siting and Design Principles
The following sections are an overview of siting and design considerations, mitigation and information which should be submitted for all telecommunications mast applications within National Scenic Areas and Wild Land Areas. Further detail on siting and design can be found in Planning Advice Note (PAN) 62: Radio Telecommunications.Whilst this note is out of date it still contains relevant information in Paragraphs 63 – 86 and 93 – 99.
The Design Statement should include a clear demonstration for the reasons for site selection. This should explore options for site selection and provide justification for a new ground based mast over utilising an existing mast or structure, replacing an existing mast and/or site sharing. Masts of simple, uniform design should be utilised, and where site sharing is proposed the design of the new mast should match as closely as possible with the existing mast.
Access tracks may be more visually prominent in the landscape than masts, particularly at high elevations where there is a lack of natural screening. Access solutions which result in the least impact on the landscape should be explored during the design development stage and demonstrated in the Design Statement. Locating a mast next to an existing track or utilising existing tracks is preferable to limit the requirement for new tracks, and access via all-terrain vehicles should be considered.
Equipment Housing and Compound
Consideration should be given to the design and finish of ancillary equipment and compound fencing/walling to minimise landscape and visual effects (see SNH (NatureScot) Commissioned Report: Siting and Design Guidelines for Mobile Telecommunications Developments in the Highlands and Islands (2002). Where practicable utilising surrounding topography to reduce impacts of built form should be explored. Proposed materials and finishes should be appropriate to the setting; the details of which should be set out in the Design Statement.
Mitigation and Reinstatement
The proposal should demonstrate that mitigation through design has been undertaken to minimise landscape and visual impacts through siting, design, material selection and landscaping. All mitigation measures should be set out in the supporting Design Statement and be shown on supporting plans and visualisations where appropriate.
Tree planting as screening may be helpful in some situations but may not be appropriate where it appears as an isolated block drawing attention to the mast. On exposed sites where there are no trees, and screen planting is impractical, making use of the topography to reduce visibility should be considered.
All cumulative effects from existing, consented, or proposed telecommunication masts within the surrounding proposed study area should be considered to ensure significant effects are minimised through siting and design of mast clusters and proposed mitigation measures.
Additional Information to include in the Application
The following provides details of supplementary information that should be submitted as part of the application.
Design statement demonstrating selected siting, exploration of mast sharing, and all proposed materials and finishes for the mast and associated structures i.e fencing, walling, build form. All landscape design mitigation measures should also be detailed. In addition, exploration of track design and demonstration of a proposed alignment which minimises landscape and visual effects. All proposed tracks should be designed in accordance with NatureScot guidance Constructed Tracks in the Scottish Uplands (2015).
Viewpoints accompanied by photomontages showing all elements of the proposed development i.e. tracks, fencing, walling, build form, landscape mitigation measures. Mitigation measures in the form of planting should be demonstrated at year 1 and year 15 on all viewpoint photomontages, see Landscape Institute: Visual Representation of Development Proposals Technical Guidance Note 06/19 (17 September 2019).