CAMPAIGNERS FROM HEDON and Hessle travel down to Parliament today to present their briefing document “The Unintended Consequences of *Permitted Development”.
They will meet with Graham Stuart MP who has assured them that issues will be raised with Sir John Whittingdale, the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure.
*Permitted Development refers to Part 16 Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning Act (General Permitted Development Order) 2015 grants permitted development rights to code operators (like MS3 Networks) for the installation of broadband. There is no longer a need for them to gain prior approval i.e. through the planning process. However, there are conditions that operators need to comply with.
Taking as a reference, a Case Study of Hedon and the town’s forced installation of telegraph poles by MS3 Networks, despite the obvious community opposition, the document will ask whether this scenario is what the Government actually hoped to see when granting permitted development rights?
The document raises questions about the regulation of operators like MS3. Although seemingly unregulated by local councils or the telecoms industry regulator Ofcom, there are in fact a raft of measures that local authorities can take to manage, monitor and set conditions on operators. As a result of this trip today, it is hoped that councils across the country can be advised of the powers open to them to protect residents’ concerns regarding the local environment and the visible state of the street scene. The feeling of powerlessness, especially here in Hedon, at the rampant telegraph pole planting of MS3 should give way to a hope that residents and local authorities can regain some control over their streets.
Permitted development has given rise to operators like MS3 whose behaviour, poor operating practice and poor community engagement skills are not consistent with the spirit and intentions of the permitted development legislation.
The poor operating practice of MS3 Networks and their contractors in the East Riding has resulted in them being issued *72 fines for breaches of their permit conditions since starting operations in the county (*via a Freedom of Information request). Campaigners have gathered a catalogue of examples of these breaches (mostly related to health & safety) which will also be presented to Parliamentarians today.
Community engagement has been non-existent in Hedon. But this appears to be MS3’s and most other operators’ normal method of working. Our study of how similar operators have acted in other areas has revealed a typical pattern: 28-day pole notices appear. Residents complain. Petitions are organised, complaints are lodged with councils, elected politicians and Ofcom – and then pole deployment begins. The first time that most residents realise what is going on is when poles start appearing on the street.
MS3 and other operators in Hull and the East Riding have chosen not to work with KCOM opting instead to build their own networks. The option of going underground and sharing infrastructure was proposed by MS3 to Hedon Town Council over a year ago. The 28-day notices issued by MS3 in Hedon in September revealed a very different story: Going overhead with telegraph poles. Today in Parliament campaigners will make a case for a KCOM sharing agreement to be brokered. Under permitted development, guided by the Electronics Communications Code, there is still a preference to use underground routing. No more licences to operate in Hull and the East Riding (the KCOM area) should be issued to operators until facilitated negotiations to share infrastructure have been completed.
One of the most obvious signs that permitted development is not working as intended, is the potential and fact of the proliferation of poles on some streets.
Permitted development has encouraged competition with mainstream providers, but also between new network providers. This has led to the proliferation of poles in some areas. In the KCOM area, we have seen Connexin poles and MS3 poles planted close to each other, and potentially two other providers could result, in some cases, of up to four different company poles, being potentially planted less than 2m apart, on a single street.
Did the government anticipate that the legislation would mean that there would be a nationwide mass installation of poles? We see the proliferation of poles as another unintended consequence of permitted development and perhaps the worst in that it blights the visual aspect of communities, causing additional obstacles for motor vehicles, the visually impaired, wheelchair and pram users. This is particularly alarming in areas where most services are actually underground and it creates a whole layer of new and unnecessary street furniture.
In their deliberations in Parliament today, campaigners will seek rapid changes in the interpretation of the regulations that can result in better management of operators like MS3. Other proposed changes will take longer to implement. In the meantime, the petition to exclude telegraph poles from permitted development gathers pace.