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Coalition demands meeting with phone operators

Monday 12th June 2023, 10:01am

Mountaineering Scotland, as part of a coalition of community, conservation and outdoor recreation groups, has issued a joint statement expressing  concerns about the UK Government’s rural connectivity deal with four mobile phone operators - EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – which would see countless phone masts erected on Scotland’s hills.

The coalition is now seeking urgent meetings with phone operators, and environmental and planning authorities to ensure communities are consulted and damage to Scotland’s wild places is avoided.

“It has become increasingly clear to us that the telecoms mast target to cover 95% of the country by 2025 was a bureaucratic exercise” says Mike Daniels, Policy Director of the John Muir Trust.

"The plan was half-baked. It did not consider the needs of communities living in remote areas and the necessity of protecting Scotland’s wild places.

“Mobile phone operators and planning authorities need more time to assess the usefulness and impact of the hundreds of proposed mast sites properly. That is why we are asking for the scheme to pause so we can meet with operators, environmental and planning authorities and government.”

Davie Black, Access and Conservation Officer for Mountaineering Scotland said: “We absolutely support the principle behind the programme. Local residents and businesses have the right to digital connectivity. But it is communities themselves who are speaking up, saying the siting of the masts will not benefit them. The plan must be paused so we can all sit around the table and get this right. We want to ensure digital connectivity is achieved while protecting Scotland’s last wild landscapes.”

The coalition has asked to meet NatureScot and the Shared Rural Network to discuss their concerns and find a way forward. It has also approached planning authorities to establish how much time and resources they will need to assess telecoms mast applications thoroughly. Concerned communities and groups can support the campaign by contacting the John Muir Trust’s policy team.

The joint statement issued in May made five demands to improve the programme:

  •  Consult with rural communities to establish their needs first
  • Avoid constructing new access tracks unless no other method is possible;
  • Adequately resource Local Planning Authorities;
  • Avoid the UK’s most sensitive wild places;
  • Insist the operators share mast infrastructure, rather than building adjacent masts.

Signatories included Action for the Protection for Rural Scotland, Community Land Scotland, the John Muir Trust, Mountaineering Scotland, North-East Mountain Trust, The Munro Society, Ramblers Scotland, Knoydart Foundation, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wild land Group and the Woodland Trust.