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The Government today has published an updated version of its Best Value Statutory Guidance

Author: Hamish MacLeod, Director at Mobile UK

This is a very positive step and removes one of the barriers to mobile network deployment that has been causing difficulties.

To describe the issue briefly: mobile operators are continually looking for new sites on which to install their equipment. These can be sites for new coverage, new capacity or a replacement site for an existing one being withdrawn (for example, where the underlying building is being redeveloped). Public bodies, such as local authorities, the NHS and the fire service, have a vast portfolio of suitable properties where network equipment can be (and frequently is) installed.

Public bodies quite rightly have a duty to obtain ‘best value’ when making their assets available for mobile infrastructure. Until today there has been some ambiguity as to how this is achieved; does it mean maximise rents or can other considerations be taken into account, such as the social and economic value of improved connectivity in an area?

This guidance answers that point emphatically and confirms that enabling better mobile connectivity in an area is a valid way of discharging the duty to obtain best value.

This is significant because many enlightened and forward-looking local authorities have been looking to work co-operatively with mobile operators to improve local connectivity and to let out sites at values based on the reformed Electronic Communications Code (the legislation that enables mobile providers to place transmitters where they need to be to give good coverage). The updated guidance will provide them with the assurance they need.

Operators have seen a rise in voice traffic over the Covid-19 outbreak of approximately 50% – a considerable increase, with which they have coped very well. Moreover, networks have had to be reconfigured to deal with traffic being more dispersed, away from business districts and roads.

A recent survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce for Mobile UK found that 80% of businesses expected to remain at current levels, or even increased levels, even when people start to return to offices and travel, now that we are emerging from lockdown.

This will be the reality of the new normal, and so it is even more critical that mobile operators and public bodies can work together to develop the connectivity that is so vital to keeping us connected and to rebuilding our battered economy.