Rate cuts considered to boost mobile network coverage

Media captionWhy Wales needs more mobile phone masts than England

Mobile phone companies could get a business rate cut to encourage them to invest in improving their networks.

The Welsh Government said it would consider the impact of cutting rates on infrastructure, including phone masts.

It is part of an “action plan” designed to encourage the industry to extend network coverage to more people.

Planning rules could also be relaxed, making it easier to erect taller masts, following claims Wales is lagging behind England on the matter.

The UK government introduced the same planning changes last year.

The Welsh Government’s Mobile Action Plan highlighted the challenge posed by Welsh geography, using Ofcom data showing Wales needs 67 television masts to reach one million people yet England needs just 12 masts.

In England, applications for masts of up to 25m (82ft) can be fast-tracked under what are known as permitted development rights but in Wales the limit is 15m (49ft).

Research into permitted development rights in Wales is due to be published during the autumn, before the planning policy is updated in the spring.

Image caption

Julie James said there was no single solution to boosting mobile connectivity

The action plan said the updated policy would highlight the “positive relationship between telecommunications and the economy”.

Rates account for about 22% of the costs of running a mobile mast site.

Promising to assess the impact of a cut, the plan added: “Where evidence suggests that a reduction in non-domestic rates would encourage investment the Welsh Government will consider providing non-domestic rates relief on appropriate mobile mast sites.”

Science minister Julie James said: “This plan outlines what we as a Welsh Government can do to help create the right environment to further improve connectivity in Wales.

“I have to be clear that we do not have the main levers as these rest with the UK government and [the regulator] Ofcom, and it is important to emphasise there is not one single solution to boosting mobile connectivity.”

Hamish MacLeod, director of Mobile UK, which represents mobile companies, said the plan “rightly recognises the urgent need for reform and identifies barriers to effective deployment of mobile infrastructure”.

The UK government said it had “long been calling” for Welsh ministers to follow its lead on improving mobile coverage.

Wales Office minister Guto Bebb said: “We welcome the publication of their action plan today and look forward to them now following through on commitments to address the very real issue of mobile ‘not spots’ across the country, and bring about planning reforms to support mobile infrastructure roll-out in Wales which are long overdue.”

Last month, a communications expert described mobile phone connections in parts of Wales as worse than on the Hebridean island of Tiree.