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Councils should make sure new-builds have superfast broadband

Friday, March 27th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Councils in England have been told by two government ministers to ensure new-build properties have access to superfast broadband.

In an open letter to council leaders, digital economy minister Ed Vaizey and housing minister Brandon Lewis say high quality broadband is essential for sustainable growth.

The government’s superfast broadband programme, being delivered through 47 local projects, is investing £1.7bn in the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

It aims to provide speeds of at least 24Mbps to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017 and universal access to 2Mbps by the end of 2015.

“As council leaders, you have a crucial role to play in supporting this ambitious target through your local plans and when considering planning applications to ensure wherever possible commercial and residential new builds are able to access superfast broadband,” the letter states.

“The policy on this is set out in section five of the National Planning Policy Framework and as such is a material consideration when determining planning applications.”

Some councils have already brought in policies requiring new-build houses to have access to superfast broadband.

All new homes built in the Cheltenham area will have to have access to the service following a motion put forward by a councillor earlier this year.

Cheltenham Borough Council changed its planning process to include Councillor Roger Whyborn’s (Lib Dem – Up Hatherley) suggestion that housing developers be required to commit to providing the service as part of applying for planning permission.

Cllr Whyborn told Cable.co.uk: “This emerging policy is sending out strong signals to developers and the public that if an estate hasn’t got broadband then it is a poorly built one.

“I suspect the market will start to take it on and you won’t be able to sell houses without superfast broadband soon.”

No broadband at all

The move has been welcomed by residents’ groups, although it has come too late for those living in the Chargrove Lane area of Cheltenham, who face the prospect of raising £9,000 to pay for their local cabinet to be upgraded.

Cable.co.uk has spoken to a number of broadband customers who have moved into new-build homes and have been stuck with either slow speeds or no broadband at all.

Last month we reported that residents on the Summers Field estate in Papworth Everard, near Cambridge, were struggling with “barely usable” 1Mbps, leaving them unable to use streaming services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer.

Residents of Claridge Park, in Milton Keynes, have been waiting for superfast broadband to come to their estate since it was built five years ago.

Local councillor Catriona Morris told us: “It’s deeply frustrating that many hundreds of residents are still without a modern broadband connection in this most modern of all ‘cities’.”

Chloe McKay, of Elgin in Scotland, had been without a home phone or broadband for almost six months when she spoke to Cable.co.uk.

She had made numerous calls to her provider Sky and BT Openreach after moving into a new-build property, but was “passed from pillar to post”.

“I just don't know what to do as six months without internet and phone is just ridiculous. Mobile phone signal is rubbish at home too so it's a bit of a black hole,” she said.

In January, we reported that a new code of practice outlined how developers and internet service providers should work together to connect new properties to superfast broadband.

Published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the utility charter says a clear schedule should be put in place stating the time it will take to connect a house to gas, electricity, water and broadband.

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