Brits Fret over Broadband Growth in Natl. Parks
New planning leislation to speed up the roll-out of rural broadband will “open way for ugly boxes and masts in our most beautiful countryside” a former environment secretary in the United Kingdom has warned.
The Growth and Infrastructure Bill, due to pass through the House of Lords this week, is designed to kick-start the economy by making it easier to build roads, rail and warehouses in the countryside, The Telegraph, London, reported.
But hidden in the bill is a clause that makes it easier to put in broadband infrastructure such as overhead cables, boxes and antennae in national parks.
Clause 8 removes the need for developers to seek approval from the relevant National Park Authority before building.
Lord Deben, a former secretary of state for the environment, said it will allow developers to put up ugly overhead cables in places like the Lake District without appropriate scrutiny.
“Just look at the mechanism proposed to achieve the laudable objective of spreading rural broadband. So ham-fisted is the arrangement proposed that it opens the way to ugly boxes and masts in the most beautiful countryside without any planning procedure,” he wrote in the Planning Magazine.
Ruth Bradshaw of the Campaign for National Parks said the move will put pressure on the government to lift restrictions on other forms of development in national parks such as wind turbines and mineral extraction.
“Once it is done it could lead to increased pressure for the same to happen with other development like wind turbines,” she warned.
Adam Royle, senior parliamentary officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), agreed the clause does not protect against inappropriate development for broadband, such as overhead cables or boxes in protected villages. Remote areas may also need antennae or masts to bring in wireless connections where there is no provision for cable.
He feared the move could also set a precedent for further development in national parks.
“We strongly support the extension of broadband to all areas, but this can be achieved without damaging the beauty of our most special landscapes. These new laws will establish a deeply damaging precedent for the nation’s most beautiful and treasured landscapes,” he said.
The Local Government Association has already warned that the bill will make it difficult for local residents to stop the development of supermarkets and factories by their homes.
However Richard Benyon, the environment minister, insisted that there will still be consultation before allowing building of infrastructure in national parks.
He pointed out that it is a “sunset clause,” meaning it will only be in pace for five years to allow the government to fulfil its promise to bring superfast broadband to every home in Britain by 2015.
“One of key areas of delivering economic growth to rural areas is broadband and we want nothing to stand in the way of it,” he said.
He said that overhead cables or boxes will only be put in with the support of the community and water towers and even church steeples mean that masts or antennae are only put up when absolutely necessary to bring communication to remote areas.
“We want to make sure that in our desperate and determined attempt to roll out broadband to rural communities we do not do this in a way that will damage national parks.”