by Rebecca Hannant
MS3 Networks’ installation of broadband internet poles in Hedon has been suspended by East Riding Council after it said the company had failed to meet required safety standards.
The council said it had temporarily halted the company’s street works across the East Riding after finding that it had not met its standards under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.
It comes after members of the Going Underground group, who are campaigning against the installation of the poles, claimed that workers had not followed the correct procedures in Hedon – including wearing the correct PPE, traffic control and installing the poles to a reasonable standard – and they said they were reporting any perceived breaches to the council.
As part of the campaigners’ evidence, a video was posted to social media that appeared to show workers in Watson Drive, Hedon, on Tuesday, October 31, carrying out work without traffic controls or reflective clothing, at a time when many families would have been in the area trick-or-treating for Halloween.
Hedon town councillor Steve Gallant, who is also chairman of the Going Underground group, said: “The final straw was footage of poles being erected at 6.30pm in the dark and rain with no proper traffic controls on the 31st (as many children were out trick-or-treating).
“I met with council leader Anne Handley, and among other things we discussed the workplace practices of MS3’s work teams.”
Following the meeting, East Riding’s director of digital, Bridget Riley, suspended all of MS3’s dig permits and summoned the company’s bosses to a meeting on Thursday, November 2, to discuss the safety concerns.
Despite campaigners citing the suspension as a “big win”, they also say that their “fight is far from over” as government legislation allows companies to install similar infrastructure without the need for planning permission.
Cllr Gallant added: “This is a big win for campaigners. But it is just a battle won – the war to stop this still needs to be won by getting the Government to change the Permitted Development regulations and let Ofcom intervene to stop this turf war between MS3 and KCOM which residents are caught up in.”
Resident and fellow campaigner Julie Annette added: “Campaigners fear that this fight is far from over. MS3 Networks may convince East Riding Council that it will promise to keep to health and safety legislation and only work within permit limitations, but we do not believe that MS3 can be trusted.
“We have been sending complaints with photographic and video evidence to the council for several weeks now and MS3 has known this. They just say they will pay the fines and continue. East Riding Council could give back the MS3 permits tomorrow and even if MS3 never gets them back, there are many other similar companies ready to step into their shoes.”
The campaigners have also pledged to continue their fight against the government legislation which currently allows the rollout of network infrastructure without the need for planning permission.
Julie added: “We demand that the Government immediately closes the loophole that lets these companies install without planning permission and without coming to infrastructure-sharing arrangements with existing providers. We demand that Ofcom is given immediate powers to address these issues and the Government ensures that Ofcom uses them effectively and without delay.”
Guy Miller, CEO of MS3 Networks, said: “MS3 was made aware this week of a video on social media showing one of its contractors operating after dark without following all our own strict health and safety guidelines for these circumstances.
“We have subsequently agreed with East Riding Council to pause poling works in the East Riding while a full health and safety review takes place. We met with council officials on November 2 who were supportive of our plans.
“This does not impact other areas of our build or when using underground delivery or utilising third-party infrastructure. We are fully committed to ensuring we, and our contractors, exceed minimum criteria for our build standards while continuing to provide much-needed broadband competition in our area where we are seeing hundreds of new customers signing up to save money every week.”
A spokesman for East Riding Council said: “We have temporarily suspended MS3 from carrying out works in the East Riding.
“MS3 has failed to meet the required safety standards of its street works under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. The council issued a stop work notice to MS3 to enable a thorough investigation.
“Today we met with representatives from MS3, and their contractor to discuss the issues. The meeting was productive and MS3 had agreed to take several corrective actions.
“Once reviewed, we will take the decision whether to allow MS3 to resume works.
“The council is committed to ensuring the health and safety of the public and ensuring contractors work to national standards in all areas of the authority.”