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Petitions

Volume 743: debated on Monday 15 January 2024

Petitions

Monday 15 January 2024

Observations

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Opposition to parking charges in Audlem, Cheshire

The petition of the residents of Audlem, Cheshire in the Eddisbury County constituency,

Declares their opposition to the introduction of parking charges to public car parks in the village, and the coterminous reduction in its on-street parking capacity, pursuant to a change.org petition of 1,808 signatures opposing the same; further that the petitioners believe that such measures would threaten the vibrancy of Audlem as a countryside business, tourism, events and infrastructure hub for residents and visitors, and reduce access for vulnerable service users in a rural area which is readily accessible only by private car and one regular bus service.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to ensure that such proposals are only developed and deliberated on following rigorous and renewed local public and economic consultation, having due regard to Government policies supporting rural high streets, services, businesses, communities, and healthcare, amongst others.—[Presented by Edward Timpson, Official Report, 13 December 2023; Vol. 742, c. 961.]

[P002889]

Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Jacob Young):

In line with the Government’s position on localism, parking is the responsibility of local authorities, and it is for them to determine what is appropriate in their own area.

However, in 2015, the then Department for Communities and Local Government published statutory guidance describing how local residents can petition to initiate a formal review of parking policies in their area by their council, with councillors then voting on the action to be taken. In the plan for drivers published in October, the Government set out plans to increase awareness of the guidance and expand its scope to other traffic contraventions. The right to challenge parking policies will remain.

Science, Innovation and Technology

Planning permission for telecommunication telegraph pole installation

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares 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; that the only requirement on the operator is 28 days notice to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) that there is no requirement to consider alternatives such as under-street cabling; that the LPA can only make suggestions on siting which the telecoms company is under no obligation to follow; that there is no requirement to inform residents of the installation and so no opportunity for them to inform the process; 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 Emma Hardy, Official Report, 14 November 2023; Vol. 740, c. 619.]

[P002872]

Observations from the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure (Julia Lopez):

As I previously stated to the House, access to digital services is becoming increasingly important to businesses and consumers throughout the UK. The intention behind the legislative framework currently in place was to strike the right balance between ensuring not only that network deployment can happen at pace, but also 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 under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, as amended, which do not require an application to be made to the local planning authority—LPA—for planning permission.

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 its accompanying regulations, the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003, as well as the relevant conditions and requirements in 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.

The 2003 regulations set out circumstances in which the operator must notify the LPA, or other relevant bodies, of its intention to deploy certain apparatus, including poles. For fixed-line broadband poles, the requirement is 28 days’ notice to be given to the LPA in most cases. Installations in certain other areas in England, such as a national nature reserve, site of special scientific interest, area of special scientific interest or marine nature reserve, require prior notification to be given to the relevant conservation body.

In all cases, the relevant body which has been notified by the operator under the 2003 regulations may, within 28 days of the receipt of the notice, give the code operator written notice of conditions which the planning authority wishes the operator to comply with. Operators are not required to comply with these conditions to the extent that they are unreasonable in all the circumstances. The 2003 regulations also require operators to minimise the visual impact of the apparatus on the visual amenity of properties 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. It is crucial for LPAs to inform Ofcom of any situations where they believe operators are not complying with their statutory duties. Ofcom will, in turn, consider the specifics of each case.

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. The 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 that installations are placed appropriately, and that LPAs 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.

This Government also believe that apparatus sharing can significantly reduce the need for new installations and have 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.

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. We are in discussions with Ofcom regarding this, and are considering whether there are any steps we can take to ensure these important duties are adhered to, and to promote collaborative engagement between operators and communities.

The Minister for Digital has met with Ofcom on ensuring that suspected breaches are investigated where reported, and Departmental officials continue to consider this matter as a priority.

We thank the petitioners for bringing these concerns to our attention.