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The government will consider the merits of making the current broadband planning regulations, which were temporarily relaxed in 2013 for a five-year period, permanent, in an attempt to further stimulate fibre roll-out into the remotest parts of the UK.
In a newly released productivity plan, titled Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation, the government acknowledged the importance of reliable, high-quality fixed and mobile broadband connections in supporting wider economic growth through increased productivity, efficiency and labour force participation.
The paper claimed that investment in broadband would increase gross value added (GVA) by £6.3bn and create 20,000 new jobs in the UK by 2024.
The government’s report went on to say that by reducing red tape and barriers to investment, Westminster would now act to support the market in achieving the goals that it set out in the March 2015 Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy around ultrafast broadband and universal 4G mobile coverage.
In light of this, the government is “considering making the 2013 planning relaxations supporting fixed high-speed broadband infrastructure roll-out permanent”.
In 2013 the coalition amended the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 to allow a number of new development rights, including removing the requirement for prior approval of fixed line broadband apparatus on Article 1(5) land, meaning in National Parks, the Norfolk Broads – which at the time was not a National Park – areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites.
“We wish to provide for the roll-out of specific fixed-line broadband services in rural areas, especially the hard-to-reach rural areas,” said the government in a consultation note issued in 2013.
“Currently prior approval (covering siting and appearance) is required when installation of specific broadband infrastructure is carried out on Article 1(5) land or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
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“We are removing this requirement as it applies to Article 1(5) land, but not SSSIs, for a period of five years in order to provide certainty to encourage operators to invest in infrastructure with additional financial support.”
The order removed requirements for local planning authorities to approve siting and design relating to the construction, installation, alteration and replacement of telegraph poles, cabinets and wires used to deliver fixed-line broadband in these areas.
This was intended to stimulate roll-out by allowing Openreach and other operators to deploy overhead fibre networks, without having to dig up roads and install ducting alongside the existing copper network.
In its productivity plan, the government also announced proposals to extend permitted development rights to allow mobile network operators (MNOs) to deploy taller masts in both protected and non-protected areas in England only. A call for evidence on this proposal has also been launched.
It also revealed plans to introduce legislation as soon as possible to reform the Electronic Communications Code, which regulates the relationship between communications network operators and site owners, and will consult later in 2015 on implementing a European Union Directive on measures designed to bring down the costs of deploying high-speed networks.
Finally, the government said it would implement a new model for the centralised management of radio spectrum owned by the public sector, recognising the value and scarcity of the assets it holds.
“By securing more efficient use of public sector spectrum – while safeguarding departments’ ability to deliver critical operational public services – the government will be able to share or release more of its spectrum, realising wider economic benefits both in terms of generating capital receipts and by supporting digital communications innovation and the development of new technologies,” it said.