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Colchester to Push for Fibre Broadband as Part of New Build Planning

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 (9:03 am) - Score 578

The Colchester Borough Council in Essex (England) has become the latest to call on local property developers to consider the need for faster “direct fibre” broadband connectivity when seeking planning permission for new builds, although it’s not an enforced requirement.

A number of other councils have already adopted similar policies (example), which follows last year’s pressure from the Digital Economy Minister (Ed Vaizey) who called on local authorities to support “the rollout of superfast broadband when developing and updating Local Plans and considering planning applications” (here).

Most recently the Government, BT (Openreach) and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) also managed to reach a new agreement that aims to deliver “fibre based” (FTTC/P/H) superfast or ultrafast broadband connectivity into new build properties across the United Kingdom, either for free or co-funded (here).

In keeping with that it’s no surprise to find that Colchester’s local authority has finally agreed a new policy of asking developers to build-in support for faster broadband, albeit only where possible.

The somewhat voluntary wording may be a reflection of the fact that it’s not always practical for home builders, particularly those constructing a single house in the middle of nowhere, to also ensure that the property is served by superfast broadband.

In some cases doing so for small builds, which can be personal or professional projects, could cost tens of thousands and that would risk making the project unviable. But on bigger builds that’s less of a problem and including support for fast broadband should ideally be a matter of normal practice.

Colchester’s Local Plan Committee Report said (Gazette):

“Local Planning Authorities have a pivotal role to play in encouraging developers to future-proof their developments by installing direct fibre access, where ever possible.

In addition to the reputational and wider economic benefits of ensuring residents are able to access high speed broadband when they move into new developments, there is also the issue of avoiding the costs and frustrations to occupiers of future retrofitting if the infrastructure is not fit for purpose.”

Apparently the council is looking at the issue of broadband connectivity as part of their new local plan to build 15,000 new homes and commercial premises by 2032. Meanwhile a new EU policy will soon require “All new buildings – and those undergoing major renovation – for which applications for building permission have been submitted after 31 December 2016 must be high-speed ready” (here).

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    It’s about time. Of course it would not be appropriate where costs are disproportionate, but I would have thought some formula (such as a threshold % of expected total sales) could be devised.

    1. Avatar dragoneast says:

      You’d think so wouldn’t you? But land use planning targets are based upon projected needs and viability, and reviewed by Planning Inspectorate Inspectors, so the local authorities aren’t masters in their own house. (Given the economic implications, it’s not unexpected). This idea that you can just demand something and get it is a pipedream, or even that the real world just follows the statistics. All the time you are trying to reconcile conflicting objectives. The EU target is more relevant, assuming we don’t reject it or make it as complicated as we normally do. And one enforceable obligation is worth a thousand aspirations.

      But of course it’s not about the real world, but giving some people a nice warm feeling.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      The amounts involve at build time are fairly trivial on big projects. The basic ducting infrastructure for FTTP is essentialy identical. The one bit that is significantly different is the connection back to an aggregation point (if this is FTTP on an OR network). of whatever equivalent alternative operators provide. I’m taking it as read that there would be no copper service where FTTP rather than FTTC is relied upon.

    3. Avatar dragoneast says:

      It’s not the money, it’s the mentality. The best thing would be if OR insisted on it, as usually any alternative is going to be Virgin or an alernative fibre service supplier. The council is just piggy in the middle.

      The problem I foresee is urban development, where the local infrastructure is poor, as happened in East London. They are prime development sites if, as many people prefer (though not necessarily the developers) to concreting over swathes of the geren areas around neighbouring towns and cities, which may be better just for broadband access. You can’t just skew the planning system. It has other implications.

    4. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      I appreciate that those ex-industrial areas of east London often have poor coverage (often EO lines without any cabinets). However, high density housing changes everything. Many more households to sell to, and in developments which are presumably costing hundreds of millions, it ought to be possible to finance fibre to suitable aggregation points. After all, there’s probably not enough copper (or duct space for copper) so they’d likely have to do major uplifts anyway.

      I suppose the usual thing applies. Nobody sees the bigger picture and it’s all project-by-project.

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