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Planning permission for telecommunication telegraph pole installation

Volume 732: debated on Monday 15 May 2023

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Notes that telegraph poles being erected by designated communications network operators for the expansion of Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband do not need planning permission under the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) 2003 and The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015; further that the only requirement on the operator is 28 days’ notice to the Local Planning Authority (LPA); further that there is no requirement to consider alternatives such as under-street cabling; further that the LPA can only make suggestions on siting which the telecoms company is under no obligation to follow; further that there is no requirement to inform residents of the installation and so no opportunity for them to inform the process; and further that the first knowledge residents will have of a telegraph pole being installed is when it appears in their street or outside their residence.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to make statutory requirements for designated communications network operators to apply for permission to the LPA on any proposed installation of telegraph poles and for the LPA to consult with affected residents before issuing any permissions.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dame Diana Johnson, Official Report, 8 March 2023; Vol. 729, c. 382.]


Observations from the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure (Sir John Whittingdale):

Access to digital services is becoming increasingly important to businesses and consumers throughout the UK. This Government believe the legislative framework currently in place strikes the right balance between ensuring not only that network deployment can happen at pace, but that installations are carried out in a proportionate way, with regard to the impacts on communities.

The electronic communications code is the framework that underpins agreements between operators and occupiers with regard to the deployment of digital infrastructure on, under or over land. It is true that operators have statutory rights under the electronic communications code to carry out street works and install apparatus in, on, under or over a street or road, and that some types of apparatus can be installed using permitted development rights, which do not require prior planning permission from the local planning authority. However, when exercising their statutory rights to install apparatus, operators must adhere to duties and obligations contained in both the electronic communications code itself, and in its accompanying regulations: the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003, as well as requirements under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 and related legislation.

The 2003 regulations include requirements for operators to share apparatus where practicable; to use underground, rather than overground, lines where reasonably practicable, with certain exceptions; and when installing apparatus, to minimise the impact on the visual amenity of properties, potential hazards and interference with traffic as far as reasonably practicable.

As the independent regulator for telecommunications, Ofcom is able to take enforcement action in respect of breaches of the restrictions and conditions contained in the 2003 regulations if it has reasonable grounds to believe that operators are failing to comply with those requirements when deploying apparatus. Local planning authorities may inform Ofcom of any situations where they believe operators are not complying with their statutory duties.

There is also a code of practice—the cabinet siting and pole siting code of practice 2016—in place relating to the siting of cabinet and pole installations. This code of practice was developed in 2016 by the Government, in collaboration with two major fixed-line operators and other interested parties. The code of practice provides guidance on ways operators can ensure these installations are placed appropriately, and that local authorities and communities are engaged with regarding the proposals. For example, the code of practice sets out that, where new poles are to be installed, the operator should place a site notice to indicate to nearby residents the intention to install a pole, and the proposed location.

In addition to the duties and obligations operators must adhere to when deploying apparatus, specific provisions in part 12 of the electronic communications code include rights for individuals to object to and seek the removal of certain apparatus. In particular, paragraph 77 gives a person the ability to object to a pole installed on neighbouring land, where the apparatus is of a height of 3 metres or more, where they are an occupier of or have an interest in that land and their enjoyment of or interest in the land is capable of being prejudiced by the apparatus—subject to certain conditions. Paragraphs 78 to 81 set out the process for raising an objection—which involves such a person taking an operator to court—and the factors which the court will consider, when deciding whether the apparatus should be removed.

This Government believe the rights, duties and obligations contained in the existing legal framework promote efficient deployment, while taking into account impacts on communities. However, we note the concerns that have been raised regarding recent installations and recognise the need to ensure that deployment happens in accordance with that framework.

The Minister for Digital has written to the local planning authorities and Ofcom about their important roles in ensuring that operators are adhering to their statutory duties by, respectively, reporting cases of non-compliance and using their enforcement powers where appropriate. It is our expectation that this will address and prevent poor practice moving forwards.

This Government also believe that apparatus sharing can significantly reduce the need for new installations and has recently introduced measures, contained in the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act 2022, which will support and facilitate this. The relevant measures came into force on 7 February 2023 and 17 April 2023.

Thank you for bringing these concerns to our attention.