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UK Government Softens Broadband Infrastructure Bill to Protect Parks

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 (1:31 pm) - Score 459

The government will amend its controversial Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which is designed to help “fast-track” the roll-out of superfast broadband services around the United Kingdom by cutting red tape in the planning system, in order to protect national parks and other “areas of outstanding natural beauty“.

Some feared that the new bill, which would primarily benefit big ISPs like BT and Virgin Media, might have damaged national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty by, for example, allowing for the placement of telegraph poles or broadband street cabinets in “any location other than Sites of Special Scientific Interest” (i.e. without prior approval from the local council).

According to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government, Baroness Hanham, a series of new amendments to the bill have been put forward in order to help reaffirm everybody that the government “had no wish to unpick the distinct and settled legislative framework that applies to the national parks“.

Baroness Hanham told the House of Lords:

The purpose of our reforms is to ensure that fixed broadband deployment is not held back in the small minority of cases where local planning authorities and communications providers are not able to agree the best siting. I hope that, after all we have done, this will not become an issue. Should it be, however, at any stage, this is the way it will be managed by the providers.

The Government remain convinced that the natural environment and landscape are of crucial importance, which is why there will be a number of important safeguards. First, the voluntary code on siting best practice for operators and planning authorities will have input from the national parks as the English National Park Authorities Association is involved in the working group which will draft the code. Secondly, communications providers will remain under a statutory duty to consult the local planning authorities on their proposed deployments.

Thirdly, “environmental sustainability” is a requirement of the Broadband Delivery UK contracts in the areas to which they apply, meaning that local authorities are able to specify particular requirements in their Broadband Delivery UK contracts if they wish to do so.”

Baroness Hanham added that the government had “never intended to ride roughshod” over the protected areas legislation. More broadly the “important safeguards” mean that the primary legislation for protecting the country’s “iconic landscapes“, which has been in place since 1949, should remain largely unchanged.

However the changes still place a strong onus on the government and BT to follow the commitments and consult with the representatives of national parks and other related areas.

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