Homebuilders Federation opposes fibre to the home policy

The Home Builders Federation has formally opposed proposals, in its new town plan, by Ashford Borough Council to  require fibre to the home to developments of more than ten properties unless impractical. This goes further than the BT offer of free fibre to the home for developments of 30 or more properties which the HBF negotiated earlier this year. Developers might therefore have to pay BT for access and have no certainty of alternative offers, whether free or not.

The full objection, (see below) appears to equate “National Policy” with the deal negotiated earlier this year between the HBF and BT and quotes costs given by BT in the course of that negotiation. There is an interesting question as to how far these reflect the experience of the others who might wish to serve the new business parks and housing estates around Ashford International Station and the Channel tunnel terminal. They also appear to be higher than those experience in the rather more rural areas being served by suppliers like Gigaclear. This objection therefore appears to be more of a pre-emptive strike against other councils who might be considering similar policies

The HBF concludes that  “Developers want to provide Broadband in new homes. This has become an expectation of customers. The HBF is working hard with Open Reach and other providers to improve the service to new homes.”  Meanwhile Borough Councils like Ashford are looking ahead to 2030 when Fibre and 5G are expected by the Minister to be ubiquitous. Indeed this section of the plan is only one of a number of measures being undertaken by Ashford to encourage and facilitate, not just mandate, local investment in a future ready infrastructure.

It appears essential for the alternative (to BT) suppliers to respond to the objection below – and contact the HBF with their counter offer.

Should many more councils be thinking ahead, requiring new homes to be future ready?

Are the quoted costs a fair average, or have they been overtaken by new technology and business models?

Should future policy be dictated by national deals between dominant suppliers and major trade associations?

Or is that the way the world works and the Federation is being perfectly reasonable?

Please make your views known via the pressure group or your choice? Or post your comments in response.

Local Plan to 2030 Regulation 19 – Publication June 2016

Document Section Local Plan to 2030 – Publication Draft TOPIC POLICIES SECTION B – EMPLOYMENT AND THE LOCAL ECONOMY Promoting of Fibre To The Premise (FTTP) Content [List all comments on this document part]
Comment ID ALP/1920
Respondent Home Builders Federation Ltd (James Stevens) [List all comments by this respondent]
Response Date 10 Aug 2016
Current Status Accepted
Do you consider this part of the document is Sound? No
On which grounds do you consider the document unsound? (if applicable) Not Justified, Not Consistent with national policy
Do you consider the Document is Legally Compliant? Yes

This policy is unsound because it is unjustified and inconsistent with national policy. The Council has not considered the cost implications of this policy.

The policy requires that all residential development within the Ashford urban area will enable FTTP. In rural areas, schemes of 10 or more dwellings will enable FTTP.

Firstly, this is in effect a Grampian Condition imposed on applications. Providing a fibre connection is not within the control of the developer: the applicant depends on a third party provider, such as Open Reach. If Open Reach cannot provide a connection, or provide fibre, then this policy would allow the Council to refuse the application.

Secondly, there is a cost associated with complying with this policy that is especially difficult for smaller developments. Those organisations (like Open Reach) providing fibre connections do charge customers, although the tariffs they charge are not publicly disclosed. However, for dwellings in areas where there is no fibre network, the cost can be very high. It averages out at about around £2-3,000 per dwelling as the provider will need to build a cabinet and then extend the fibre from the cabinet to each dwelling in a scheme. This will cause difficulties for rural schemes. We have provided a copy of the agreement between the HBF and Openreach (letter to the Government dated 3 February 2016). This indicates the costs involved, although the specific costs are not referred to by the agreement for reasons of Openreach wanting to maintain commercial confidentiality. One of the key passages from the agreement is:

“However, although the co-funding offer is available to all those outside of existing coverage, for some of these smaller developments the cost to connect will be considerable and it is for these that wider community funding and alternative technologies could have a role to play. Openreach and the HBF jointly recognise there is still more work to be done to come up with solutions for the smaller developments of fewer than 30 homes where they do not benefit from existing coverage.”

There are significant cost implications associated with this policy and the Council will need to factor this into its viability appraisal. This is an area that is not currently covered by the Viability Study. The Council proposes that the policy is applied only to schemes of 10 units and more, but the providers will charge developments at this scale. Only on very large schemes will developers tend to benefit from the economy of scale.

The caveats in the policy with regard to applicants for proposals of ten units and under having to demonstrate what is ‘practical’ does not accord with the NPPF. The NPPF requires that “only policies that provide a clear indication of how a decision maker should react to a development proposal should be included in the plan”. The words ‘where practical’ would not provide this precision. It would be unclear to the applicant what the Council might judge was ‘practical’. This could be very subjective. This would prevent applications that accord with the development plan from being approved without delay (NPPF, paragraph 14).

Similarly, we are concerned by the requirement that if fibre is “not practical due to special circumstances” (with the applicant having to demonstrate those ‘special circumstances’ to the Council) then s/he will need to provide non Next Generation Access technologies. Again, like fibre, this is in effect a Grampian Condition as providing such technologies is not within the applicant’s direct control. This policy could be used to refuse an application.

Developers want to provide Broadband in new homes. This has become an expectation of customers. The HBF is working hard with Open Reach and other providers to improve the service to new homes. This is a priority. However, we are concerned by the prescriptive nature of this policy, and how it effectively imposes a Grampian Condition of all new residential development. For these reasons, we consider that the policy should be deleted from the plan.

We recommend that this policy is deleted from the Plan.

What changes do you suggest to make the document legally compliant or sound?
Do you consider it necessary to participate at the oral part of the examination? Yes
Does your representation relate to an omission site (a site that has not been included). For example a site for Housing, Employment, Travellers, or Local Green Spaces. No
Please supply details of the omission site.