Planning restrictions must be relaxed to make it easier for homeowners to install satellite dishes, MPs have warned.

The proposal, prompted by plans to end traditional television signals by 2008, would mean dishes were allowed in leafy suburbs and conservation areas.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, including Midland MP Paul Farrelly (Lab Newcastle-under-Lyme), also warned that cowboy builders may take advantage of the switchover to digital television as viewers are forced to install new aerials.

It called on the Government to work with the building industry to protect residents.

The analogue signal will be switched off region by region, beginning in 2008.

From 2011, homes without digital reception in the West Midlands will be faced with blank screens.

Although modified aerials can receive digital signals, the switchover is also expected to increase the take-up of satellite digital services using dishes.

The Government has estimated that the cost of going digital for an "average household" ranges from #80 to #570.

So far, 56 per cent of homes in the West Midlands have done so.

The MPs warned that too little had been done to help those who could not afford the cost.

Some vulnerable groups, including the over-75s and those with severe disabilities, will receive free or subsidised provision.

But the report says: "The scope of the Government's targeted assistance programme is too restricted and fails to acknowledge those who, by dint of income or social exclusion, are in genuine need.

"With analogue switch-off beginning in only two years, this matter requires urgent consideration."

It should be as easy to install a satellite dish on a home as a standard aerial, the MPs said.

"We recommend that the Government re-examines planning regulations and procedures to ensure greater equity in their application to satellite dishes and aerials.

"At the very least, local planning authorities should be encouraged, through formal guidance, to exercise the discretion they have in the application of planning regulations to satellite dishes."

They called on Digital UK, the body set up by broadcasters and the Government to oversee the changeover, to monitor the process of installing new aerials.

The MPs added: "This must be matched by tough action by trading standards and other enforcement bodies against cowboys attempting to exploit the lack of understanding about the technical requirements of the switchover process."

Mr Farrelly said: "We commended the Government for its decision to set a switchover date but clearly there going to be some concerns."

He added: "The biggest worry is the opportunity afforded to cowboy aerial installers to make a small fortune at the expense of the elderly and most vulnerable."

The Government said it would carefully consider the committe's recommendations.

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