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Broadband roll-out measures ‘ride roughshod’ over planning

Government plans to scrap the requirement for council approval of broadband infrastructure installations have been criticised for ignoring residents’ interests.

On Friday, the Government announced a package of temporary measures to make it easier for communications providers to deploy infrastructure and speed up the roll-out of superfast broadband.

The Government will legislate immediately, or use existing powers to ensure that “broadband street cabinets can be installed in any location other than a Site of Special Scientific Interest without the need for prior approval from the local council and without any conditions being placed upon the construction or design by local authorities except in exceptional circumstances”.

Overhead broadband lines will also be able to be installed in any area without the need for planning or other permission.

Culture secretary Maria Miller said: “Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country's future – to kick-start economic growth and create jobs. We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.”

Secretary general of Digital Policy Alliance, Edward Phelps, said: “Broadband is critical to our return to economic growth and to creating new jobs. This is a welcome step towards removing the red tape that stifles innovation and will encourage the private sector to do more to ensure all areas of the country have superfast broadband.”

But Local Government Association housing board chairman Mike Jones said: “The answer isn’t riding roughshod over planning protections, and it’s vital Government doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture in a race for short-term gain.

“You cannot take away the rights of people to have a say on six-foot high, humming junction boxes outside their windows and gardens or poles and wires festooning their streets. Rushed and unnecessary road works to lay cables also risk costing council tax payers a fortune in repairs and, even when done properly, shorten the life of the roads.”

Westminster City Council shared the LGA’s opposition. Cllr Philippa Roe, Conservative leader of the council, said: “We are concerned that the ability of local people to oppose commercial broadband boxes, of which some can be large eyesores, will be diluted by these proposals. It is more important that councils work in partnership with broadband companies to locate infrastructure sensibly.

“I would question why the Government’s approach is needed at all – it will only result in a gradual and prolonged development across the UK rather than the big bang in broadband that the UK needs.”

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