Telecommunications: Infrastructure

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology written question – answered am ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence)

To ask the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, if she will bring forward legislative proposals to require broadband companies to gain the consent of (a) the local authority and (b) residents before erecting telephone poles.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

Telegraph poles play an important role in delivering efficient and cost-effective coverage and connectivity to communities, particularly in hard to reach areas without costly and disruptive roadworks, or where existing infrastructure cannot be used.

Permitted development rights allow telegraph poles and lines to be deployed without requiring case-by-case approval from the local planning authority, and we have no plans to introduce legislation to change permitted development rights for telegraph poles.

However, we are aware of the concerns that residents in some parts of the country have about the deployment of telegraph poles. There are existing measures to minimise pole deployment and avoid inappropriate siting, and we are also taking further action to respond to those concerns.

For example, the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003 (“the 2003 Regulations”) set out the legal requirements operators must adhere to.

Already, Local Planning Authorities should be notified 28 days before poles are installed in many circumstances as set out in the 2003 Regulations, and can impose conditions on this installation which operators must adhere to provided that the conditions are reasonable. The 2003 regulations also state that operators should share infrastructure where practicable.

There is also a Code of Practice in place, which provides guidance on ways operators can ensure new installations are placed appropriately, and that local authorities and communities are to be engaged with regarding proposed installations.

Ofcom can take enforcement action in respect of breaches of the restrictions and conditions contained in the 2003 regulations. Ofcom have also stated that they would investigate any cases where poles are sited in a way which is not consistent with the requirements and guidelines in place – including where they block residents’ drives or where operators systematically fail to engage with local planning authorities’ suggestions. We encourage Local Planning Authorities to make complaints to Ofcom if they feel these criteria apply.

I recently met with Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom, to discuss this, and to explore ways DSIT and Ofcom can work together to raise awareness of statutory roles and responsibilities and ensure better compliance.

I also wrote to all fixed line operators on 14 March, setting out the government’s concerns and emphasising the importance of infrastructure sharing. Specifically, I have asked them to do everything possible to share existing telegraph poles before installing new ones.

Separately, DSIT is considering how revisions to the Cabinet Siting and Pole Siting Code of Practice might be delivered to promote better working practices.

I met interested MPs on Monday 25 March 2024, and I remain keen to hear and understand the concerns shared by MPs and their constituents. I am also meeting fixed-line operators to discuss these concerns.

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