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Fibre poles and cabinets planning free-for-all greenlit despite objections

Telecoms providers have five years of freedom to build telegraph poles and cabinets for fibre broadband despite the government receiving more objections than support for the plan.

New rules mean BT, Virgin Media and others can expand their networks without winning prior approval from local planning authorities until 2018, even in National Parks.

They will have to consult planners and other groups under a voluntary code of practice, which could become compulsory if the broadband providers don’t work with locals.

Fibre poles and cabinets planning free-for-all greenlit despite objections
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Read Recombu Digital’s guides to Fibre Broadband and BDUK, and Rural BroadbandBT Openreach estimates the proposals will see up to 1,000 poles installed across Britain’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, connecting to more than 150 fibre broadband street cabinets*.

Bill Murphy, managing director for Next Generation Access at BT Openreach, said further consultation and engagement would be needed to work out the final numbers of poles and cabinets.

The UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are home to more than 83,000 businesses – the majority small or medium sized – and more than 623,000 homes, most of which have very poor internet connections.

The plan is designed to speed up the rollout of broadband, and make it cheaper for providers to put superfast over-24Mbps fibre-based services into rural areas.

Broadband providers are currently encouraged to put new cables in expensive underground ducts and win planning permission for every broadband cabinet or overhead pole.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport received 95 responses to its third consultation on the proposals, with 71 per cent against relaxing restrictions.

Overhead apocalypse

Not surprisingly, the proposals were rejected by representatives of the National Parks, local planning authorities, civic societies and environmental bodies.

Sheffield City Council warned: “Allowing overhead cables would be particularly damaging to Conservation Areas, Heritage Assets, Listed Buildings and National Parks. 

“It is also considered that it would be harmful to non-designated areas and in combination with other infrastructure would lead to over proliferation of service paraphernalia”.

Planning officers also warned they’ll have to do the same amount of work for consultations, but without the income from planning application fees to cover staff costs.

Boost for tourism

The supporters were mostly communications providers, business representatives and county councils, but also by tourism body VisitEngland.

The Broadband Stakeholders Group said: “Given that consultation arrangements will still be undertaken, that operators will have a statutory duty to consider changes if they are reasonable and proportionate and that these proposals state that operators must involve all the parties required to be consulted under the previous arrangement of prior approval in pre-notification, then we believe that this achieves a win-win.”

While most objectors wanted a shorter period with relaxed planning controls, Kcom of Hull thought it might not be long enough, and the Scottish government suggested running it to 2020.

* An earlier version of this story used an estimate by Friends of the Lake District, which predicted 32,500 new poles across the UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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