Section 254 – The dubious history in this country around licensing and the telecoms industry
It is as textbook a demonstration as one will ever see about the power of lobbying by big business.
Published on 20 May, 2021

First of all I’d like to say I was very disappointed with the response, this was a relatively small but I feel, a very important, request, as it goes to the heart of transparency around developments that have a significant effect on the public and their perception as to how the local authority deals with planning for the public good.

We jointly requested three items in this motion and I’ll deal with each and the response in turn;

  1. That Clare Co Co create a specific “section 254” application form for telecommunications infrastructures

The existing form we are told is considered to be sufficient, I totally disagree on that point, it’s not remotely fit for purpose…look, it doesn’t even name what’s being licensed on the form. Its mind boggling that a license to permit the building of a structure 15/20m tall is covered by ticking the “other” box on a form for hoardings, scaffoldings and marquees. Frankly, I think that’s an embarrassment and insulting to the communities we serve not to give them the bare minimum level of transparency so they know when something of this scale is being developed in their areas

  1. The application form would include the requirement for the company seeking such a license to notify the public of their intention to do so

We are told there is no requirement in the planning act to notify the public so the planning authority cannot include it as a requirement…

Again, I disagree, Dublin City Council have a condition on page 3 of their telecoms infrastructure section 254 license form that explicitly requests a site notice be placed at the relevant location, which must be clearly legible by the public, and the applicant must furnish photographic proof they have done so when making their application.

Subsection 4 of Section 254 states “A license may be granted under this section by the planning authority for such period and upon such conditions as the authority may specify” , something DCC have clearly done by including the requirement to notify the public, and ensure the communities it serves can clearly see what developments will be undertaken where, within their localities.

Far from cannot include a requirement to notify the public, DCC understand the Act clearly allows the authority to put whatever conditions it deems necessary on the license application, maybe they are wrong…. The regulations don’t require us to notify the public, neither does it say we can’t, and so we should.

The third item, we asked for is that elected representatives are notified whenever such an application is made for a telecom mast

This the Director has acceded to.

However, there is one more item I would highlight here, it is a reserved function of the elected members to permit the disposal of public lands, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember not so long ago having to approve the disposal of a very small piece of land to allow Irish Water space to construct a local ESB transformer for the pump station in Kilkee… I cannot believe that granting a license to construct a telecoms mast on public land doesn’t equate with that, and constitutes what amounts to the disposal of public land.

if this motion passes, then I would hope the director will listen to us, and take the direction from the members that the communities we represent want more transparency aournd the granting of such licenses for telecoms masts through firstly, the provision of a dedicated section 254 form for telecoms infrastructure, and secondly, conditions around notifying the public be included on that form

Sum up

The use of Section 254 licenses is a scurrilous abuse by multi billion euro businesses of a piece of planning legislation designed to give coffee shops a permit to put a sign outside on the footpath…. It is as textbook a demonstration as one will ever see about the power of lobbying by big business.

In Sept 2020 Eir sold its tower infrastructure subsidiary to a US group for €300 million

Cignal infrastructure was sold in 2019 for €210m with approx. 550 masts, their ambition is to develop a further 600… using this license to help them achieve that growth is effectively facilitating the doubling of private corporate value through the use of public lands.

It would seem the public service discourse is that telecoms infrastructure must be facilitated for the public good, that is complete rubbish…This is not about the public good anymore… it’s business on a massive scale…and treating these companies with kid gloves around planning is no longer at all appropriate..

There is a very long and very dubious history in this country around licensing and telecoms, Section 254 licenses allows the telecoms industry to bypass the public transparent planning process where those impacted by a development have the right to engage in that process from the outset.

This council should not be seen to collaborate in this process by hiding the license applications under ‘other’ in a form for scaffolding and hoardings and marquees, and by insisting these companies show some level of respect to our communities by notifying them when making these license applications.