Here is the PDF version of the briefing below:
The Government has today announced a package of temporary measures, which it believes will make it easier for communications providers to deploy infrastructure and generate growth. The Government has said that it will legislate immediately following consultation where necessary, and/or use existing powers to ensure that, for the next five years:
The real barrier to broadband roll-out is the fact the Government does not have the EU's permission to spend the £530 million it wants to allocate to broadband. In the absence of state aid clearance there is no superfast broadband programme and resolving this blockage must be the main focus for Government.
The Government's proposals take the right away from people to have a say over six-foot high junction boxes outside their windows and gardens or poles and wires festooning their streets. Decisions on where to place broadband infrastructure must consider the impact on local environments rather than simply suit the convenience of companies and their engineers. Rushed and unnecessary roadworks to lay cables also risk costing council tax payers a fortune in repairs and, even when done properly, shorten the life of the roads.
Residents expect councils to protect their homes and make neighbourhoods nice places to live, and planning regulations exist to do just that. The drive to meet broadband targets shouldn't force poorly thought out knee-jerk measures that spoil local environments and needlessly damage roads. Government needs to encourage providers to work together to make better use of existing ducts and poles, rather than duplicating infrastructure.
Local councils are leading the roll-out of the Government's superfast broadband programme and have secured over £120 million of match funding from local bodies. Superfast broadband is essential infrastructure for many businesses, which will help drive growth in the local economy and improve the quality of people's lives.
Councils are as keen as Government that businesses and communities should benefit from faster broadband as soon as possible. The real problem is not the planning system or streetwork permits but the failure to secure state aid clearance for broadband subsidies.
Councils were encouraged to use European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as either match or complimentary funding, but as the European Commission has yet to grant state aid clearance this funding cannot be drawn down or work started. Resolving this blockage must be the Government's main focus. Any further delay and consequent bunching up of call-offs will bring into question the ability to deliver the projects by 2015, and potentially threatens councils' budget plans if dates slip substantially from those originally forecast.
The Government has said it will legislate immediately following consultation where necessary, and/or use existing powers to ensure that, for the next five years:
The Government has also said it will work with mobile operators, local government and other interested parties to streamline the planning process and speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure.
The Government has said it will insist that any new local authority street work permit schemes approved between now and 2015 are restricted to 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. The Government has also announced that broadband companies will face less cost and bureaucracy in laying cables in streets.
6 November 2012