GOING UNDERGROUND RESIDENT CAMPAIGNERS against MS3 poles, Julie Dervey, Ray Duffill and Joyce Whittle, visited Parliament on Wednesday (8th November 2023). They were accompanied by Hedon Town and East Riding Councillor Steve Gallant, also a resident and chair of Going Underground. Present too, was Robin Alford, a campaigner against telegraph poles in Hessle. Robin, an important member of the campaign team, serves as a reminder that the fight against MS3 is taking place across the East Riding, and is currently focussed on Hessle and Cottingham too. After the meeting with Graham Stuart, Robin and the team met with Emma Hardy MP (centre in photo) for Hull West and Hessle.
The campaigners were met warmly by Beverley & Holderness MP Graham Stuart and it was straight down to business at a meeting scheduled to last only for 45 minutes.
A briefing document, “Unintended Consequences of Permitted Development“ was emailed out to Graham Stuart’s office the Friday before (3rd November), and the MP’s first written responses arrived back by email as campaigners were travelling down by train.
Whilst initially disappointed at the written responses from Graham, the meeting itself was quite productive, with the MP stating his opposition to ugly and unnecessary poles in his constituency. The meeting discussed the regulations regarding ‘permitted development’ (the legislation enabling the rollout of new broadband networks by operators) and the powers that are available to local planning authorities (LPAs) to monitor, manage and if necessary, stop operators.
A positive outcome of the meeting was an agreement that LPAs needed far more clarity on the powers available to them, just re-quoting the legislation was not enough. Campaigners believed any briefing note to LPAs should be explicit in telling them what they can do and should do when managing operators.
A fresh look is needed at the issue of how new alternative networks (like MS3, Connexin, etc) can share existing infrastructure. This is one of the desirable outcomes of the permitted development legislation. Graham expressed the hope that in the future KCOM could be compelled to share its infrastructure on a basis that is comparable to Openreach elsewhere in the country. Campaigners expressed their belief that MS3 doesn’t want to share infrastructure, and if proven, this would place them outside the remit of permitted development.
Pole proliferation was of concern to all. The idea that in some streets four different companies might be erecting poles was alarming and the possibility of such overbuilding was likely. Campaigners had presented their Poles Booklet as evidence of what is happening in Hedon, elsewhere in the East Riding and in Hull. Ray Duffill referred to it as a booklet of ‘stupid pole locations’ with poles placed inappropriately, in areas where they shouldn’t be, clearly ruining the visible amenity and adding to street furniture clutter. Pole proliferation is a reality and is an unintended consequence of permitted development. Campaigners asked what can be done where proliferation already exists? What can be done to limit/prevent this happening in the East Riding?
No attempt at community engagement had been made by MS3. Despite overwhelming evidence in Hedon that the majority of residents want nothing to do with telegraph poles or companies that use them, MS3 continued with its pole deployment. Despite the area having existing underground infrastructure that could be shared, pole deployment was the preferred option. Despite the existence of a Code of Practice on how to operate, MS3 announced at a Hedon Town Council meeting that it was voluntary and they did not have to abide by it. Even the safeguards in the legislation about informing inquisitive residents via pole location maps of the nearest pole to their address were denied as the company sought to avoid resident protests.
Campaigners have made suggestions about operators engaging communities before 28-day notices are served. The Code of Practice should be made mandatory. Indeed, perhaps network builders ought to be striving towards quality assurance awards in their work. Instead, poor operator practice has resulted in complaints, and a catalogue of grievances sent by campaigners to East Riding of Yorkshire Council. These have resulted in fines against the operator and now, since 1st November, a Stop Work Notice.
When 28-day notices are issued, they should be specific to each pole and inform nearby residents of the intention to install a pole, and its proposed location on the street with a location map, and clearly state on the site notice the avenues open to object to its placement.
The discussion is ongoing with Graham Stuart, and via him with the Minister Sir John Whittingdale. Campaigners are keeping a log of the questions asked, issues raised and responses from Parliament.
Graham Stuart MP has produced a media release that Hedon Blog published yesterday. Below are comments from some of those who attended Parliament on Wednesday
Graham Stuart has promised to raise all the questions we have put to the government to Sir John Whittingdale, however the urgency of this matter is paramount if we are to stop the proliferation of telegraph poles not only in our own historic town but in so many areas across this country .
Therefore we need everyone who is appalled by this invasion of our communities by unnecessary infrastructure to do at least one thing; to bombard your local councils, with requests and demands to rescind current permits where infrastructure is being replicated. By issuing those permits, local authorities have failed in their duty to us, their residents, to protect our environments and communities.
The proliferation of poles is not only affecting visual amenity, but the problems inherent with the increased street furniture, the often badly placed obstacles for pedestrians, adding to the difficulties of those using mobility aids, and those with visual impairments. It is increasingly apparent that it will cause issues with traffic and street parking, and may also affect emergency vehicles access. If the government ever considers street charging units for motor vehicles, where will all this extra furniture be placed?
The councils urgently need to set the conditions required so that the new code operators have to share infrastructure. Where the code operators are non compliant then councils need to report them to OFCOM so that they can investigate and enforce the conditions setJoyce Whittle
When MS3 Networks visited Hedon in 2022 and said they were going to install underground infrastructure to bring broadband services to Hedon, no one paid them much notice. When they came back in September 2023 and stuck notices on lampposts and said they were going to install 500 telegraph poles across the town and nearby Preston – and told us they had permission to do so, people in our pretty market town objected.
People looked for support and ways to complain; the local council said they had no power to intervene, Ofcom the regulator said it couldn’t help. The only alternative was for people themselves to get organised.
A campaign group Going Underground was set up. A household boycott of MS3 Networks and its partners was organised which now involves 1,200 households who have pledged a ten-year boycott. A petition quickly raised 4,000 signatures.
When MS3 contractors turned up to dig holes and plant poles they found residents cars parked legally but awkwardly for them to operate, residents wanted to cross the road continuously in front of their pole lorries to delay them, and everywhere they worked residents photographed and filmed their methods of work. Working practices of the MS3 contractors were discovered to be poor. A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that in their short time of operating in the East Riding MS3 have been fined 72 times for breaches of their permit conditions.
Ultimately it was this poor operator practice that led to East Riding Council issuing a Stop Work Notice in the interests of the health and safety of residents.
In the end, somebody had to intervene and take matters to a legislative level, and Graham Stuart MP helped facilitate getting the campaigners a voice at a national level.
The trip to Parliament has helped identify some of the problems that have allowed MS3 Networks to ride roughshod over communities. And I feel that the balance of power is starting to shift from those who have ‘permitted development’ rights to plant poles, to those communities who have not given their permission for telegraph poles.
MS3 has carried on regardless, concentrating their efforts in Hull while unable to work in the East Riding. Likewise, should the pole planters be allowed to work again in the East Riding, then the street protests will continue in Hedon – and now also other areas – but this time campaigners will be much more optimistic that national change is coming that will curb the activities of pole-planting MS3 and the companies like them around the country.Ray Duffill
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that: given the widespread fury amongst residents wherever these new telecoms operators have installed unnecessary additional infrastructure; the willingness of affected residents to risk arrest and/or their vehicles being impounded; the total omission of any semblance of public consultation or meaningful public engagement; the volume of serious H&S breaches and complaints to local authorities; the quantity of petitions against this additional infrastructure; the extremely poor understanding that many new telecoms operators have in respect of critical Health & Safety regulations, Telecoms Code of Practice, Highways Code of Practice, and Planning Code of Practice; the total absence of willingness to ensure safety for both the public and their employees; the lack of interest that telecoms operators actually demonstrate in terms of sharing infrastructure; the number of complaints that residents have attempted to lodge with OFCOM; the mounting pile of evidence of aggressive and bullying tactics used by several of these new telecoms operators and the support of MPs from across parties to close this loophole urgently, demonstrates that these issues need addressing NOW.
There are too many places where this has happened already.
There are too many places where this is happening right now.
And there are too many places where this will be happening tomorrow.
I demand that all new telecoms operators permits are rescinded immediately and new applications can only be resubmitted when:
- Individual operators can demonstrate to OFCOM that all sharing opportunities have been exhausted and/or that there is no other technologically viable broadband service in place.
- Local authorities are given a suitable budget to enable manpower to monitor the additional works being conducted.
- All operators and their contractors are fully compliant with all relevant codes of practice (whether they are voluntary or not)
- Should operators find too few takers for their new broadband, they will remove any unused poles they have installed within 9 months of installation.
- That operators must join suitable ombudsman services to manage complaints effectively.
- That operators must take out insurance to cover pole removal, etc. should they go into liquidation.