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Fixed Broadband Infrastructure Planning Review: Call for Evidence

Date: 24/3/2016

Dear all,

In Summer 2013, DCMS and DCLG brought forward a package of measures to support the roll-out and access to fixed super-fast broadband to business and communities. The changes were to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 ("GPDO"), the Communications Act 2003 (2003 Act) and the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003.  

The permitted development rights removed for a period of 5 years until 30 May 2018 the prior approval (siting and external appearance) requirement on article 2(3) land e.g. national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas etc. (not Sites of Special Scientific Interest) for the construction, installation, alteration or replacement of telegraph poles, cabinets or lines, in connection with the provision of fixed-line broadband, provided that the development was completed on or before 30th May 2018. These changes are set out in Part 16 (A.2(5)), of Schedule 2, of the GPDO. 

This change was complemented by amendments to section 109(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 (2003 Act) and the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003 in order to allow the deployment of broadband street cabinets and new overhead lines, considered essential for economic growth. In particular, the changes made required the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when exercising powers under the Code Regulations, to consider the need to promote economic growth alongside, and with equal weight to, the need to protect the environment and to conserve the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. The changes to the Code were intended to replace the checks and balances of the permitted development right to ensure the relaxation of planning measures did not lead to insensitive siting of equipment

The changes also had the effect of removing the making of regulations under section 109 of the 2003 Act from the scope of duties owed under section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (relating to areas of outstanding natural beauty in England and Wales), section 11A of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (relating to national parks in England and Wales), section 17A of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988 (relating to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads) and article 4 of the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (relating to areas of outstanding natural beauty in Northern Ireland).  The legislative change was delivered through clause 9 of the Growth and Infrastructure Act, which received Royal Assent on 25 April 2013, and the supporting Electronic Communications Code Regulations (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003. The changes were made on a temporary basis - for a period of 5 years - expiring on 6 April 2018. 

The Broadband Cabinet and Pole Siting Code of Practice (the Code of Practice) came into force in June 2013. This was designed to complement the planning changes outlined above and to put in place a framework with which all communications infrastructure providers committed to comply. The Code of Practice's purpose is to ensure that infrastructure deployment is managed sensitively, avoiding any adverse impacts on the environment through early and constructive engagement between all relevant parties.  It was devised by a representative working group of planners, communications providers and stakeholders with an interest in protecting the physical amenity.

There is a statutory requirement under the Electronic Communications Code Regulations for communication providers to consult with local planning authorities on the siting of their equipment. In bringing forward the Code of Practice it was our intention to provide clear and practical advice to ensure the delivery of significantly better and more effective communication and consultation between operators, their contractors, local authorities and local communities. We made a commitment to monitor the operation of the Code of Practice to ensure that operators delivered on their commitment to comply with the Code and made clear that if not adhered to we would consider placing the code on a statutory basis.  We undertook a monitoring exercise in 2014, which suggested that the Code was working effectively. We would be interested to review progress further and would be grateful if you would share your experiences are part of our ongoing commitment to deliver broadband connectivity.

The purpose of writing to you today is to seek your views and evidence on the effectiveness of the changes made in 2013. This will help inform our consideration of whether to cease, extend or make permanent the package of changes made beyond 2018. We are keen to hear from you in response to the following questions and the deadline for responses is Friday 8 April 2016.

Experience of the effects of the changes made in 2013:

1.     What is your view of the effectiveness of the package of changes made in 2013? Please explain why.

2.     To what extent have the amendments provided the increased rate of infrastructure installation intended?  Please provide numbers of any new poles and overhead lines deployed so far and the numbers of cabinets in protected areas.

3.     Please describe any benefits arising from the changes to the regulatory framework, including any operational and administrative cost savings, or any additional premises covered.

4.     Is the Code of Practice being widely used, and are all parties adhering to it? Please provide evidence.

5.     How have the changes to the Code of Practice and permitted development rights affected your commercial decisions to roll-out broadband to premises in Article (2) land?

6.     Does the Code of Practice effectively address all of the circumstances for the installation of infrastructure? If not, please explain.

7.     Are there new issues that should be included in an updated Code of Practice?

8.     Are there protections in the permitted development rights that have not been adequately covered in the Code of Practice?

9.     How many complaints has your organisation received since the last review in 2014 and how many are for the same concerns?

10.  Please describe the nature of any complaints, your response and how many complaints were escalated for a decision.

11.  What, if any, negative impacts have arisen as a direct result of the 2013 package of changes?

12.  Do the behaviours demonstrated by all parties involved, either directly or as interested stakeholders, justify extending or making permanent the changes that were temporarily introduced for five years? Please explain why.

Please send your responses by Friday 8 April 2016 to Sean.Kenny@culture.gov.uk.

Regards,

Sean Kenny | Broadband Policy Adviser | Digital Economy Unit | 100 Parliament | London | SW1A 2BQ |  Telephone 020 7211 6946 | Email sean.kenny@culture.gov.uk

 

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