6 December 2023

MS3 gets green light to resume pole work

MS3 Networks has been given the go-ahead to resume broadband pole installation in Hedon.

East Riding Council has given the firm the green light to resume work after the company agreed to meet higher quality and safety standards, and improve communication.

Work was halted over safety concerns when MS3 contractors were seen wearing minimal PPE and without traffic controls in Watson Drive on October 31, at 6.30pm, as many families were in the area trick-or-treating for Halloween.

Hedon residents reported the incident to East Riding Council, which temporarily suspended the work and later found that it did not meet the standards required by the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.

After a review, MS3 and the council have reached an agreement on how the firm will continue to install its poles. Better safety standards must be followed, while the company has been told to communicate its plans with residents and customers in a timely manner.

A spokesman for East Riding Council said: “Since we temporarily suspended MS3 from carrying out works in the East Riding last week for failing to meet safety standards, a full investigation has been carried out.

“We have now reached an agreement with MS3 that corrective actions will be taken to ensure the ongoing safety and quality of their work.

“The council has asked MS3 to meet best practices and industry standards, as well as improve communication and engagement with residents and the council and provide timely and accurate information about their work schedule, progress and impact.

“We have also asked the company to address any complaints or queries from the residents and the council promptly and professionally, and to resolve any disputes or damages amicably.

“Following the latest report, we have given MS3 the go-ahead to resume work and submit permits to the council for that work from Friday, November 17.”

Last week, residents campaigning against the poles took their fight to Parliament.

On Wednesday, November 8, the campaigners from Hedon and Hessle were invited to meet MP Graham Stuart to discuss their next steps.

They expressed a range of concerns to the MP, including the role of regulations and companies sharing infrastructure, safety measures and the powers that are available to local planning authorities to monitor, manage, and if necessary and stop operators.

Firstly, the campaigners expressed their fear that under permitted development different companies could build pole infrastructure near one another, which will cause overcrowding and issues to traffic, accessibility and more.

They claimed that this could happen despite the area having existing underground infrastructure that could be shared among networks. In response they have called for Ofcom to encourage the sharing of infrastructure between networks.

The campaigners presented a poles booklet to Mr Stuart showing evidence of the work on installed poles around the area.

A representative of the Hedon campaign group Going Underground said: “The idea that in some streets four different companies might be erecting poles was alarming and the possibility of such overbuilding was likely.”

Following the presentation of evidence, Mr Stuart expressed his ambition that in the future KCOM could be compelled to share its infrastructure on a basis that is comparable to BT’s Openreach elsewhere in the country.

Claims were also made at a previous consultation meeting stating that despite the existence of a code of practice on how to operate, the code was voluntary, with operators being able to opt out of its guidance.

In response, the campaigners suggested to Mr Stuart that operators should engage with communities before 28-day notices are served.

They also expressed their wishes that the Code of Practice should be made mandatory to ensure that work is carried out to high standards and low grievances. They claimed that the enforcement of the code would create more awareness about safety measures and would make sure that poles were installed correctly.

The Going Underground spokesman added: “When 28-day notices are issued, they should be specific to each pole and inform nearby residents of the intention to install a pole, and its proposed location on the street with a location map, and clearly state on the site notice the avenues open to object to its placement.”

At the meeting the group also shared their concerns about pole deployment being allowed to go ahead with little public consultation. They claimed that despite evidence in Hedon showing that most residents did not want to use services by MS3, the company was continuing with its installation regardless.

Following the meeting, Mr Stuart wrote to digital infrastructure minister Sir John Whittingdale to request answers to the campaigners’ questions and provide greater clarification on the regulations that they believe have been exploited by MS3.

Mr Stuart has lobbied Sir John via letter and in person and has written to Ofcom to highlight what he views as the “sorry state” of broadband competition in the East Riding following meetings with MS3 and KCOM.

He has also worked with East Riding Council and the police regarding concerns about working practices by MS3’s contractors, including putting up poles overnight.

Mr Stuart said: “It was a pleasure to welcome campaigners to London, and I hope they found our meeting as productive as I did. I think they’re doing a great job highlighting this issue and I’m keen to continue to help them in any way I can.

“What I’ve done immediately is to take their points to the minister to see what can be done to tighten up the regulations and guidelines to encourage the companies to work together for the interests of the residents.”

The Going Underground spokesman said: “In the end, somebody had to intervene and take matters to a legislative level, and Graham Stuart helped facilitate getting the campaigners a voice at a national level.

“The trip to Parliament has helped identify some of the problems that have allowed MS3 Networks to ride roughshod over communities.

“And we feel that the balance of power is starting to shift from those who have ‘permitted development’ rights to plant poles, to those communities who have not given their permission for telegraph poles.”

“A fresh look is needed at the issue of how new alternative networks such as MS3 and Connexin can share existing infrastructure. This is one of the desirable outcomes of the permitted development legislation.”

Following the meeting, campaigners met Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy over their concerns about a similar proliferation of poles in Hessle and Hull.

South West Holderness councillor Steve Gallant, who is chairman of Going Underground, said: “It was good to meet with Graham Stuart and Emma Hardy to press our concerns.

“The nub of the problem is the regulations set by the Government last year are letting our community down.

“They need tightening up to give planning authorities the power to intervene and insist infrastructure goes underground wherever possible. I hope the minister takes this on.”

Mr Stuart said he hoped the council would continue to use the powers granted to it under the Electronic Communications Code 2003 where required to ensure the safety of residents and workers. He claimed that time was of the essence with poles going up around Hedon and the possibility of similar issues arising in other towns and villages.