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UPD2 Culture Secretary Fixes UK Planning System for Broadband Rollout Boost

Friday, Sep 7th, 2012 (12:52 pm) - Score 929

The UK government’s new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt Maria Miller MP, has announced plans to “fast-track” the roll-out of superfast broadband (25Mbps+) services around the country by resolving “unnecessary bureaucracy” in the current planning system. However the proposals are nothing new.

At present the coalition government claims to be investing £680 million through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office into superfast broadband (it’s closer to £1bn if you count the BBC’s £300m post-2015 funding), which aims to make the service available to 90% of UK people by 2015.

Last month saw Miller’s predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, propose for the UK to have not only the “best” but also the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015” (note the use of “major“, which according to Ed Vaizey MP means just “France, Germany, Italy and Spain“) and to extend its coverage target beyond the current 90% (population) figure (here). Miller today warned that this could only be achieved if the existing “swathe of red tape is … swept away“.

New Planning System Changes

* Broadband street cabinets can be installed in any location other than Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without the need for prior approval from the local council and without any conditions being placed upon the construction or design by local authorities except in exceptional circumstances;

* Broadband fibre and other broadband infrastructure can be located under or above private land without the bureaucratic burden of long-running negotiations; and

* Overhead broadband lines can be installed in any area without the need for planning or other permission (we will encourage providers to engage with the local community on the siting of overhead lines as a matter of good practice).

* In addition, we will: broker a new deal for broadband installation with industry and highway authorities to ensure that traffic regulation does not hinder the roll out of superfast broadband;

* Insist that any new local authority street work permit schemes approved between now and 2015 are focussed on the most traffic sensitive streets; and

* Review all existing permit schemes and the way works are classified, in order to streamline processes, shorten timescales for approval of works, and reduce fees.

* We will also: facilitate discussions between broadband infrastructure providers, power companies and Ofgem to develop a standardised national power supply contract for broadband infrastructure.

Miller said that the government would also work with mobile phone operators, local authorities (councils) and other “interested parties” to consider ways that the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure (future superfast 4G (LTE) services).

Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said:

Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs. We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.

The Government means business and we are determined to cut through the bureaucracy that is holding us back.”

A VirginMedia spokesperson added:

Efforts to cut through the red tape that hampers the rollout of better broadband are welcome but overdue. We’re fully behind the Government’s ambition to ensure Britain has the best broadband in Europe and steps like this will help support Virgin Media’s on-going private investment. We’re in the process of doubling the speeds of over four million households across the country so the Government’s reforms will be a big boost in ensuring we’re able to better deploy our services to consumers and businesses.”

In reality many of these “new” ideas have been on the cards since the government first revealed its original strategy in 2010, although they’ve yet to be formally implemented. Suffice to say that in the future anybody who complains about one of BT’s new, big and green FTTC cabinets might find their gripe harder to resolve.

Meanwhile the government is still attempting to resolve the European Commission’s (EC) competition concerns (e.g. lack of dark fibre access and BT’s dominance of the current bidding process etc.), which is necessary before any public funding allocations can be released.

A ruling on the EC’s area(s) of concern is expected sometime this “autumn” but has already resulted in the completion date for the related Local Broadband Plans (LBP) / procurement process being shifted back from “by the end of 2012” to July 2013 (the above planning changes are due to be ready within the same timeframe but might not get implemented until 2013). It should be said that different LBP’s will complete at different times and several have already concluded (e.g. Wales), pending EC state aid approval. Better late than never, perhaps.

One key question about today’s proposals, which has yet to be fully clarified, is whether or not all of the changes will only benefit those operators (e.g. BT) that can take part in BDUK’s process or if they will be applied more generally.

UPDATE 8th September 2012

UK ISP TalkTalk has welcomed the proposed changes.

Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

We welcome the plans to fast-track the superfast broadband roll-out. Removing unnecessary barriers and reducing costs of deployment are a positive step and we believe the government should devote similar energy to ensuring competition and encouraging accessibility for all. Only a competitive and inclusive market will ensure that the new networks are fully utilised and offer the widest possible coverage, the lowest costs to consumers and deliver economic growth.”

The Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which had also been working on a national wayleave agreement, has echoed TalkTalk’s remark.

Harry Cotterell, CLA President, said:

We have frequently said it is vital the Government’s twin objectives – a universal service provision of at least two megabits per second and a superfast network where it is possible – are put in place by 2015. The measures announced today could go some way towards achieving this.

We will be looking at the detail of the Government’s announcement and future policy to ensure any proposed changes do not have an adverse impact on land managers. This is particularly the case in respect of the installation of broadband infrastructure on our members’ land.”

The government aims to introduce the new changes around Spring 2013.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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