2 March 2024

Councillors back call for Ofcom to halt broadband pole installations and conduct emergency review

East Riding Council is to call on Ofcom to launch an emergency market review in response to residents’ concerns over broadband poles being installed in the region.

People across Hedon and Preston have been campaigning for many weeks against the hundreds of poles being installed by Hessle-based MS3 Networks.

At a full council meeting on Wednesday, January 10, councillors unanimously voted in favour of Councillor Coleen Gill’s motion that the council should write to the communications regulator calling for an emergency market review in the Hull Telecoms Area, and a pause in build until the review has been conducted.

Ofcom’s next scheduled market review in the area is not due until 2026.

During the meeting, Cllr Leo Hammond, cabinet member for planning, explained the council’s role and the limited powers it has to prevent or influence the installation of poles.

Cllr Hammond said: “I have to make clear now that we do not have the power to stop the installation of poles for fixed-line broadband, or require that the apparatus be underground, as these poles are permitted development under national planning policy and therefore, do not require planning permission.”

Putting forward her motion, Cllr Gill said: “I move that this council, having not yet received a reply from the Government to the letter sent as a result of its motion on this matter from July 2023, write to Ofcom calling on it to launch an emergency market review in the Hull Telecoms Area ahead of the next scheduled review in 2026, due to the expansion of more telegraph poles being installed in areas across the Hull Telecoms Area, already served by an existing gigabit capable duct and pole Network.”

Cllr Gill’s motion said the market review combined with a pause in build, should consider:

“1. Imposing a duty on telecoms companies to demonstrate reasonable efforts have been made to reach an agreement with existing providers for access to infrastructure.

“2. Compelling existing providers to publish pricing for access to its infrastructure.

“3. In the event that no agreement is reached, oblige companies to pursue a formal dispute via Ofcom, prior to installing further infrastructure of their own.

“4. And to reiterate, stop any such installations until a market review has been concluded.”

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the motion, as well as an amendment proposed by Cllr Richard Meredith to add a fifth point, that market review includes “an assessment of the current legislation to determine if the intentions and ambitions are being met, as well as if and how practices could be changed or improved”.

In response to two questions from members of the public, Cllr Hammond said the council was “well aware” of residents’ concerns and was working with local councillors to try to support people “when and where we can”.

However, he stressed that, while councillors had been working hard to lobby the companies involved and the Government, including local MPs, the council itself was limited it as to what it could do.

Cllr Hammond said: “The council has a limited input from both a Planning Authority and Highway Authority perspective on the installation of poles, and has been working with providers within the powers available to us through relevant legislation.

“I must make it clear now, the council does not have the authority to refuse the installation of poles for fixed-line broadband or [insist] that communication apparatus must be underground, as these poles are permitted development under national planning policy. So we cannot stop the erection of poles on planning grounds.”

He pointed out that utility operators such as MS3 and Connexin were regulated by Ofcom under the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003, and not by the council.

Cllr Hammond said the council’s Street Works team had been in contact with Ofcom on numerous occasions.

He said the team had also previously revoked MS3’s street work permits over health and safety breaches and would continue to monitor and inspect sites.

The cabinet member urged residents to report any health and safety concerns to the council.

However, he reiterated that the councils did not have the powers to stop the installation of poles, only to ensure they were installed safely.

Cllr Hammond also said the council had been in contact with network providers, Ofcom and the Government to ensure appropriate consultation and compliance and to drive improvements where performance has not met required levels.

He said: “Lessons can always be learned via this experience and officers will seek to establish an improved framework of operation and consultation for those operators wishing to work within the East Riding in the future.”

For more information, visit: Telecoms utilities and telegraph poles

Watch the full debate HERE