All telecoms’ operators with Code Powers have the legal right through the Electronic Communications Code to install their apparatus within the highway extent at their discretion. Installing new poles has been expressly defined as Permitted Development, meaning they do not require Planning Permission. The Government legislated for this to avoid the UKs connectivity upgrade getting bogged down in the planning process, acknowledging it was never going to be popular with everyone.
The fact that they are not subject to the planning process can cause frustrations locally as they are sometimes unpopular. However, the Code has been designed to ensure that complaints on purely aesthetic grounds do not impede the delivery of critical fibre infrastructure.
It is easy to provide underground services to new estates, prior to hard surfacing being laid, in tandem with other utilities and when the land is within the ownership of a single entity. Conversely, retrospective excavation is extremely complex. The complexity arises from the need to enter into legal agreements with numerous landowners and to excavate across people’s driveways and gardens at the same point in time as the roadworks. It is really the logistical challenge that is foremost over and above the cost.
This stems from BT’s decision, at the time some roads were developed, to simply bury their copper cables rather than lay them in ducts to the property. At the time, this would have been very simple and cost effective. Retrospectively it is extremely difficult (given the reliance on obtaining wayleave agreements from every property owner regardless of their interest in upgrading to a full fibre service) and costly (given the traffic management measures and range of hard services that would need to be excavated).
This network has been planned to serve the town for generations to come. Many residents have yet to be impacted by the existing copper network’s rapid decline into obsolescence, and will perhaps rightly assert that they do not need an upgrade at the moment.
However, this will become more pressing in the short to medium term as more pressure is exerted on the copper network by people using more devices for ever more sophisticated bandwidth-hungry activities. Whether or not a resident’s personal usage changes, the fact that the copper network is contended means that when others usage does change, everyone’s connection will be impacted. Therefore, without full fibre to the property, the copper connection will become less and less fit for purpose.
Moreover, in the medium term, Openreach (BT) are planning to decommission the copper network in the middle of the decade after which fibre will be essential.
This activity will therefore improve the lives of future residents immeasurably and in ways that today we cannot fully comprehend.
Telegraph poles have been a feature of the telecommunications network for decades and will remain so for decades to come. Over the coming years, most areas of the UK which are served by directly buried copper will be upgraded to Fibre using new poles regardless of the network builder.
We wouldn’t try to argue that new poles enhance the built environment. The vast majority of residents have lived with telegraph poles for decades and would, I’m sure, be surprised at how many there are already in situ. This is probably testament to the fact that despite how invasive they may appear at the point of installation, they do in time blend into the streetscape.
Poles are a greener (in the sense of C02 emissions) methodology over digging. The CEO of Freedom Fibre (one of our competitors) recently shared an interesting video https://www.freedomfibre.com/post/neil-mcarthur-explains-freedom-fibre-s-telecom-pole-usage-and-ethos in which he spells out the differences between poling and digging. He asserts that poling is essentially 50 times more environmentally friendly than digging.
There is no evidence that the installation of telegraph poles reduces house prices.
There is however, evidence that house prices are increased with access to full fibre. Furthermore, as the full fibre network becomes more pervasive, it is likely that not having access to it will begin to negatively impact house prices.
Delivering fibre is a costly business whichever methodology is used. It is more expensive to dig, but that is often not the major issue.
In some streets, where the property density is high and the in-street duct network pervasive, it can be affordable and we do consider it. However, this is much less likely in low density streets and those for instance with different driveway surfaces.
A major issue is obtaining the required legal permissions from private landowners to dig across their property to provide a service.
We have trialled this approach in some roads which have appropriate physical characteristics and / or sufficiently pervasive underground infrastructure, but it is not possible in a lot of areas.
Moreover, when the full implications of digging across driveways and gardens are laid bare, people do get put off. It would only take one of the residents on the road to have concerns, drag out the legal wayleave process or refuse to render that approach unfeasible.
We have trialled digging in a small number of streets in order to understand whether the approach is viable.
This has normally been facilitated by a volunteer assisting us to generate the required wayleaves and has been achieved with significant effort. These pilot streets also either have extensive in-street duct infrastructure and road crossings, and therefore just lack routes through to the property, and / or have a very high property density. These physical characteristics combine to make digging technically feasible. However, it may be unlikely that the same conditions relate to a particular street. If they do, it may be something we can consider but it is relatively unlikely.
We inform residents with two letters prior to installation to provide information on what we’re doing, why it’s important and to seek suggestions for minor amendments.
However, some people will have discarded these without reading them assuming them to be spam. There’s little we can do about that.
A large number of considerations are taken into account when identifying where a pole needs to go.
As far as possible, they are designed so they are not directly in front of people’s windows or driveways, are on the boundary between properties and are ideally masked by vegetation. However, these are constrained by the limitations on the span between poles or the location of feeder duct and the span from the poles to the premises they will ultimately need to serve. They are also constrained by the location of other utilities (underground and overhead), the need to avoid climbing hazards, accident black spots and visibility splays and to maintain pedestrian or wheelchair access. These combine to significantly reduce the available options.
We write to residents to explain what we are doing and why it is important, and to offer the opportunity for suggested amendments to what has been deemed the optimal pole position. If we can accommodate those suggestions within what is technically feasible, we will do so.
Either we are; in which case, our wayleaves team will have been in touch with the landowner to seek permission. If they do not provide permission, we cannot and will not install the pole in that location.
Or, the land is believed by the resident to be private but this is not recognised by the land registry.
When we plan our pole locations, a key consideration is to locate the pole within what is believed to be the public highway extent. This can include both footway (pavement) and verge. What is and what is not public land can appear ambiguous on the ground and therefore is judged based on Land Registry records. These are treated as the accurate legal demarcation between public and private land, but can be at odds with resident’s understanding. Furthermore, residents may have encroached on to, or simply maintain what is deemed public land as their own.
Whilst we maintain that the planned location falls within the legal demarcation of public land, we can discuss whether a minor change to the location is less problematic.
In this instance, the resident should provide us with the application reference number, date of the application to the Local Authority for permission to drop the curb and the exact extent of the proposal. If these are available, we will review the design and endeavour to make a minor change that ensures the planned dropped curb is not affected.
If an application has not been made or is dated after the date of our initial letter, we cannot commit to changing the location. However, we will proactively discuss how a minor change may be made that limits any impact on a dropped curb at the property.
Ultimately, fibre will only be connected to any property if the resident or future occupants request a service. There are instances when overhead wires may pass over one property to reach a neighbouring property that has ordered a fibre service. This is relatively rare, but if it is the case at a property, it will be not lower than the legal minimum height of 3.7m.