Why does Harrogate need 5G masts?
Last updated Jan 12, 2024
The 5G mast on Jennyfield Drive.
The 5G mast on Jennyfield Drive.

The much talked about “revolution” in 5G mobile technology has started its rollout across the UK – and Harrogate is not immune.

In the last two years, four applications from telecommunication giants have been submitted to council planners to erect communication masts with the aim of improving connectivity in the town.

The plans promise to offer better network coverage through 5G and increase data speeds.

However, the rollout has not gone as smoothly as some of the mobile companies would have hoped.

The Stray Ferret has covered 5G mast proposals in Harrogate for the last two years. In this article, we take a closer look at the technology and ask why it is needed.

‘Revolutionise mobile technology’

The firm leading the charge to install masts in Harrogate is CK Hutchison Networks (UK) Ltd, which operates Three Mobile.

It has submitted plans for four masts in the Harrogate area since 2022.

The technology, it states in planning documents, has the ability to bring “significant improvements” to network coverage, such as faster data speeds with “very low” delay.

It adds:

“While each generation brings technological advantages, due to the higher frequencies utilised, note 5G is expected to revolutionise mobile technology as we know it, the cell areas tend to be far smaller.

“For example, a 5G cell typically has a smaller radius area, which means the cell search areas are far smaller when compared with earlier network requirements.”

The 5G stations must be situated within close proximity of the area they intend to cover. The company argues in planning documents that sometimes this means they will have to be within “proximity of designated areas or sensitive locations”.

In other words, the stations need to be close to people who use it in order for it to work to optimal performance.

So, why do we need the technology and what can it do?

Dr Ali Zaidi, associate professor in the school of electronic and electrical engineering at the University of Leeds, explained that 5G would be able to facilitate “better capabilities to expand mobile coverage”.

This could include the ability to reconfigure the technology to support more services and applications, such as robot grocery deliveries and virtual reality.

Dr Zaidi told the Stray Ferret:

“While traditional voice, video and data service remain important, new class of services to facilitate applications such as robot grocery deliveries, autonomous cars, virtual reality, sensor based monitoring of environment e.g. flood risk/air-quality etc. over wide area, smart meter/other utility meter communications are also core part of 5G offering. 

“In brief, while the previous generations of cellular networks were focused on connecting people with people and content, 5G provides capability to connect people with machines and machines to other machine.”

Read more:

However, the rollout of 5G is not so straightforward and it does have its disadvantages.

Dr Li Zhang, associate professor in communications in the school of electronic and electrical engineering at University of Leeds, told us that the signals used in 5G, known as millimetre waves, generally require a “line of sight transmission for optimal performance”.

She explained that dense urban areas cause issues.

Dr Zhang said:

“Obstacles such as buildings, trees can block or reflect signals leading to signal blockage and multipath effect.

“All the above impose technology challenges in the deployment strategy particularly in dense urban area or indoor.”

She also added that not all current devices are compatible with 5G networks, meaning people may need to upgrade tablets and smartphones to use the technology.

Government backing

Across the country, Three has taken on rolling out the masts with government backing.

In spring 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government lent their support to the roll out of the technology.

In a joint statement, the departments set a target for the majority of the UK population to be covered by a 5G signal by 2027.

It added:

“Government is committed to supporting investment in high-quality, reliable digital connectivity so that communities can benefit from faster economic growth and greater social inclusion. 

“It is essential to keep pace with growing demand for internet bandwidth and mobile data from local businesses, residents and those who visit our communities.”

Three years later, ministers amended planning laws, specifically permitted development rights, to speed up the installation of the technology.

It means that companies can apply for prior notification from a council to install in areas such as next to the highway rather than submitting a full planning application.

Since then, Three has sought to turbo charge its rollout.

‘Sneakily’ installed

Already, the company has installed a 20m high mast on Jennyfield Drive in Harrogate opposite the junction with Grantley Drive.

The mast ,which was approved under permitted development by North Yorkshire Council in April 2023, was described by the council as an “essential piece of telecommunications infrastructure”.

However, despite the promise of better connectivity and fast data speeds, some residents in the area do not see it that way.

One resident, who lives on Jennyfield Drive and can see the mast from her bedroom window, described it as being “sneakily” installed.

She questioned why the area was chosen for the facility when other parts of Harrogate were being turned down for such proposals.

She said:

“After speaking to neighbours and other residents we have become aware that no one in this area was consulted or informed.

“We are all a bit hacked off as they were opposed being erected on the stray yet less affluent areas are okay.”

While two of its masts – one on Jennyfield Drive and the other on Otley Road near Swinton Court – have been approved, the others have yet to be given the green light.

Not only have the other two proposals failed to impress planners at the council, they have also fallen short when taken to the government’s Planning Inspectorate on appeal.

Much of the concern from the government comes from how the masts would appear in the centre of Harrogate, despite the benefits that they may bring.

Park Parade in Harrogate.

Park Parade in Harrogate.

The latest refusal, which the Stray Ferret covered this month, came when an inspector rejected a planned mast on Park Parade.

The inspector said the proposal on balance would fail to enhance the character of the area and that the company had not demonstrated that the site was the only viable option for the mast.

He said:

“On the basis of the evidence in front of me and my own observations on site, I have found that the proposed development would fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area.

“It has not been demonstrated that the appeal site represents the only viable option.

“Therefore, notwithstanding the need to upgrade the network and assist the government’s digital connectivity vision along with the associated benefits, the harm that would arise from the siting and appearance of the development would not be outweighed by the overall need in this location.”

The inspectorate threw out a similar appeal for Granby Park overlooking the Stray on the grounds that it would be “a conspicuous and intrusive feature in the surrounding area”.

While Three Mobile may have failed in two of its four applications, it’s hard to see the telecommunications giant stopping in its pursuit to install more masts in Harrogate.

When asked whether it would still press ahead with proposals in the area, a spokesperson for Three told the Stray Ferret:

“5G rollout is vital for residents and businesses of Harrogate. We want to offer the community a reliable network experience and our planners determined that these sites were required to deliver it.

“While we try to keep mast sites as unobtrusive as possible, they do need to be situated near to where people will be using the service and, in many cases, in precise locations to ensure the widest breadth of coverage. We will consider the reasons for refusal carefully and consider our options.”

What do think of the 5G rollout in the district? Do you think it’s necessary for future and existing connectivity? Do you struggle to get a good wifi signal and welcome it? Or do you feel it is unnecessary and the masts are intrusive eyesores? Write and give us your view. We print readers letters every Sunday and we’d love to hear from you. email [email protected]