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Councils react to proposed changes in planning rules
Monday 10 September 2012 10:23:14 by Andrew Ferguson

The first major broadband related announcement from the new Culture Secretary Maria Miller was relaxation of planning rules, and while many of our readers appear to support the relaxation the announcement has got a very different reaction from councils.

"We are concerned that the ability of local people to oppose commercial broadband boxes, of which some can be large eyesores, will be diluted by these proposals. It is more important that councils work in partnership with broadband companies to locate infrastructure sensibly.

"I would question why the Government’s approach is needed at all - it will only result in a gradual and prolonged development across the UK rather than the big bang in broadband that the UK needs. Under existing rules, councils such as Westminster are already leading a revolution in high-speed broadband – helping business connect through projects such as Hub Westminster and Sohonet. Earlier this year, Westminster and partners rolled out Europe’s largest free wifi zone in some of the West End's most popular destinations, at no expense to the taxpayer."

Cllr Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster City Council

"The Government’s proposals take the right away from people to have a say over six-foot high junction boxes outside their windows and gardens or poles and wires festooning their streets. Decisions on where to place broadband infrastructure must consider the impact on local environments rather than simply suit the convenience of companies and their engineers. Rushed and unnecessary road works to lay cables also risk costing council tax payers a fortune in repairs and, even when done properly, shorten the life of the roads.

Residents expect councils to protect their homes and make neighbourhoods nice places to live, and planning regulations exist to do just that. The drive to meet broadband targets should not force poorly thought out knee-jerk measures that spoil local environments and needlessly damage roads. Government needs to encourage providers to work together to make better use of existing ducts and poles, rather than duplicating infrastructure."

LGA on Broadband Infrastructure via ISPreview

We should point out a few obvious points:

  1. The new rules do not take effect until after consultation, thus 2013 is the earliest we will see any changes.
  2. No announcement was made, suggesting Ofcom Code Powers will not be required.
  3. Only Conservation areas currently require advance planning permission for cabinets and other furniture (e.g. pavement chambers) for those with Code powers.
  4. Openreach roll-out to 66% of the UK (cities and large towns), is expected to finish by start of 2014. Thus most areas will have their cabinets in place before the rules change.

If the local government and lobbying of MP's by concerned residents is high enough to have them worrying about votes, then it is possible these changes will not go ahead. Whether the changes would have made a big difference to the BDUK roll-outs is unclear, as co-operative councils would not have unduly hindered the roll-out, particularly those that accept that if they are to not become a living museum for how the UK was in the 1950's that they need to move forward.

If the Government is serious about these changes, then it would do well to highlight what safeguards are in place to ensure that incorrectly placed cabinets can be re-located.

Of course there is a solution to the problem of street cabinets, and spend a few billion more and roll-out FTTP. Alas none of political parties appear to endorse this approach. The common approach has been that while FTTC is not perfect, it should be enough to produce a benefit to the economy, and with further money expected to be available between 2015 and 2020, subsequent projects will thus keep project management and construction staff gainfully employed.

If the changes do not go through it will be a shame, as they currently benefit the smaller broadband operators (in addition to Openreach) who are springing up providing services across the UK, and if anything we need to encourage these firms to increase their footprints. Also the UK is competing for capital investment, and if local authorities in other countries are welcoming new operators with open arms, while in the UK we present a wall of red-tape and nimby court cases, why are we surprised that a lot of fibre investment money remains in mainland Europe. The success of fibre roll-outs in Europe has so often been due to local authorities having vision and ambition, something that appears almost totally lacking in the UK.

Comments

Posted by block860 over 4 years ago
shame people moan about everything (even how straight a banana is)like moaning about a cab or telegraph pole outside there home also the roads near me are a mess and have been dug up many times but not due to broadband engineers.. good old conservatives to the rescue.. if it wasn't for margaret thatcher we would all have had fibre 20 yrs ago
Posted by jamesvincentuk over 4 years ago
Councils dont stop and think that they DO stand in the way of our broadband providers and mobile networks. sensible planning is needed. and I believe that our networks will do it without the councils making it harder. This change needs to happen. We need better mobile coverage & home broadband services too.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
It has to be balancing act though. People (through their councils in theory) ought to be allowed to voice their opinion on anything that impacts the look of their neighbourhood. Too many people these days seem to have no real interest in where they live and don't care about anything beyond their garden fence.

A sense of community is a good thing and part of that is caring about your community environment.
Posted by block860 over 4 years ago
i can understand people complaining bout dogs fouling the pavement or youths (gangs) on street corners but to contact the council because a cab dont look nice is stupid! (maybe someone will make a flowery sticker for it like they do with wheelie bins) not like they're putting it in your garden or living room. the country needs a young prime minister instead of fuddy duddies stuck in the 70's.
Posted by bosie over 4 years ago
Westminster? Most of the borough has no residential access to FTTC and Virgin pulled out because the council refused to allow new ducts.
Posted by grisleyreg over 4 years ago
How sad people do not care about the neighbourhood they live in, boxes can be sited without major impact on the surroundings, work together for goodness sake regulations do not need changing
Posted by block860 over 4 years ago
how would one assist the council?.. not as if they're going to put it in your gateway is it! or is assisting asking them to place it outside a neighbours house.. seems like pot luck to me either it gets put outside your house or a neighbours.. someone please enlighten me
Posted by Stillatsea over 4 years ago
Do these rules apply to the whole of the UK or just England? I think that the devolved governments make their own planning rules.
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