Agenda item


Purpose of the item:


To provide an update on the delivery of improvements to digital infrastructure across Surrey, including changes introduced by Central Government to the way in which public subsidy is administered to support digital connectivity. This update report focuses on those interventions which will drive the greatest improvement in connectivity, in what is a complex system for the delivery and operation of broadband, 4G Long Term Evolution (Lte)/5G and other wireless technologies.




Michael Coughlin, Executive Director, Partnerships, Prosperity and Growth

Rhiannon Mort, Head of Economic Infrastructure

Katie Brennan, Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager


Key points raised during the discussion:


1.    The Executive Director, Partnerships Prosperity and Growth introduced the report confirming that the ‘digital infrastructure’ noted in the paper referred to e.g. the cabling, fibre, networks, transmitters, masts/poles and hardware that is required to enable software, applications and digital technologies to operate at their optimum level in the interests of ensuring Surrey’s residents, communities, economy and public agencies can fully benefit from them.


2.    The Chairman asked how permitted development rights affected Surrey County Council, particularly in relation to highways. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager confirmed that in Surrey, borough and district councils were the local planning authorities, carrying out specific planning functions and managing permitted developments for their area. Most communication apparatus came under permitted development rights enshrined in national planning legislation determined by government, not local authorities.


3.    There are two types of permitted development; the majority of telephone and broadband access apparatus such as cabinets and telegraph poles fall under ‘permitted development’, where the supplier contacts the local planning authority 28 days prior to starting works with no planning or prior approval from the local planning authority being required.  The second category is ‘permitted development requiring prior approval’. In this instance, the only factors the local district or borough planning authority can consider were details around the site, height, topography and appearance of the proposed apparatus.


4.    New legislation brought in in April 2022 meant that 4G and 5G masts up to 30 metres were now dealt with by district and borough councils under permitted development requiring prior approval. Masts were being increased to 25 metres on conservation areas and highways except for areas of special scientific interest and rules had been relaxed around the width and the height of existing ground-based masts being replaced in addition to the amendment to rules around masts on buildings and radio equipment housing.


Where masts/poles were being located on highways land, Surrey County Council, as the local highway authority, would be invited by the local district or borough planning authority to comment on the highway safety aspects only, but would not have powers to comment on the suitability of a location in respect of aesthetics.


Separately from the planning legislation, if a communications supplier intended to break the surface of the public highway to install new ducts, chambers, cabinets or poles, the company would be required to seek a permit application to Surrey County Council as the local planning authority and all permit applications were considered with the principles and rules of the permit scheme and road network availability for the proposed works to take place. For any applications indicating the installation of any new above ground assets, confirmation should be sought from the communication supplier that the necessary notifications have been submitted to the local planning authority to the required time scales prior to any installation.


5.    The Chairman asked for clarification around the permissions aspect of permitted development. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager explained that a supplier installing a 30-metre mast would be required to submit a permitted development with the prior approval requirement to the appropriate district or borough Council as the planning authority. This would have previously required submission of a full planning application but had now been moved into permitted development with the requirement for prior approval from the local planning authority as part of that process.


6.    The Chairman summarised that the recent legislation changes affected apparatus up to 29 metres and could only be refused by a private landowner, not Surrey County Council, highways or local residents. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager added that the supplier would have to obtain a wayleave from the landowner before the installation could take place.

7.    The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager highlighted the possible resources challenges if the local planning authority were to receive notifications for hundreds of new cabinets in a short space of time with Surrey County Council highways and street works team receiving a similar number of permanent applications. To alleviate any risks, early engagement with the districts and boroughs, suppliers, highways and street works teams had been undertaken to discuss the process and avoid delays as legally suppliers only must notify the local planning authority 28 days before works commence.


Tony Samuels left the meeting at 12:00pm


8.    A Vice Chairman asked what the three main challenges were faced by Surrey County Council in this area. The Head of Economic Infrastructure summarised the main challenges as i) the resourcing of the process by County, district and borough councils, ii) the critical importance of close engagement and positive working relationships with the districts and boroughs to deal with residents queries received by Surrey County Council regarding this complicated area and iii) the major shift from the previous super-fast programme that Surrey County Council had had an active role in delivering, to the gigabit speed program in which the government had instructed Building Digital UK (BDUK) to take a lead role in terms of roll out of infrastructure.


9.    A Member said that they were aware of a proposal to site a mast within 150 metres of a local school and asked if that was permitted. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager suggested that the Member should contact the local district or borough council planning authority for advice.


10.A Member, in relation to the restoration of footpaths being disturbed by contractors, asked if there was a strategy around communications with contractors. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager confirmed that there was, but that for specific issues and locations suggested that the Member should contact the traffic and street works manager. The Member suggested that the Committee give this area further consideration. The Chairman noted the request.


11.A Vice Chairman, while acknowledging that the detail of the roll out of digital infrastructure was not the responsibility of Surrey County Council, questioned whether a county-wide strategy going beyond the county councils core responsibilities could be beneficial and complement Surrey County Council’s promotion of digital infrastructure. The Executive Director, Partnerships, Prosperity and Growth explained that BDUK and the government largely direct the national strategy, creating the market conditions which dictate what will happen in Surrey to a significant extent. Surrey County Council were actively working to lobby and influence BDUK and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to shape that within a vision for digital in the County. BDUK create and issue to the market a series of ‘lots’ to which commercial and local community groups respond, to secure the implementation of what has been broadly dictated from national government. As a consequence, SCC has an influencing role, rather than strategic control over the programme.


12.A Vice-Chairman queried if there were examples of best practice, designs and locations that could be suggested to digital suppliers to provide a more acceptable appearance to residents. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager said that the government had started to look into monopoles, which were thin, black poles, however other design elements had not been investigated to date but examples of best practice could be sought.


13.A Member asked what could be done to encourage installation of 18 and 15 metre masts at existing sites and to ensure that residents were consulted regarding the appearance. The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project confirmed that these masts would fall under prior approval, with decisions arising from engagement by the district or borough local planning authority with the supplier.


14.A Member queried if the difficulties around permitted development were a national problem and if so, could the Local Government Association (LGA) carry out a lobbying role on behalf of Councils across the country to address issues with masks and poles. The Executive Director, Partnerships and Prosperity and Growth said that the latest LGA activity around this subject would be investigated adding that it was important to be mindful of the sovereign responsibilities and boundaries in terms of the functions of district and borough councils.


15.A Vice Chairman, in relation to the gigabit programme, queried how it was being determined and on what basis would any priority be allocated to it? The Digital Infrastructure, Senior Project Manager explained that the government announced a series of phased procurement lots that were being undertaken as part of project Gigabit. These lots had been identified loosely around county boundaries, placed into phases and had been identified by BDUK as having the most need.


16.The Chairman summarised the issues raised by Members about the roll out and concerns around the planning regime in place and said that the committee would commit to liaise with the districts and boroughs and provide support if required. The Chairman noted the complex subject area and thanked officers for sharing their knowledge and expertise.





The Resources and Performance Select Committee:

1.    Asks that the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure along with Executive Director Partnerships, Prosperity and Growth highlights the issues raised by the Committee around mast and pole size and locations, with the Surrey district and borough Chief Executives and Planning Officers to consider and take forward as part of their sovereign statutory and planning functions. These issues include the desirability of early and proper consultation with residents and divisional members likely to be affected by new masts or infrastructure and the publication on their websites of the local planning rules.


2.    Requests that the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure together with Executive Director Partnerships, Prosperity and Growth raises with district and borough councils the potential merits of lobbying the Government/relevant authorities via appropriate available forums (LGA, CCN etc.) for more effective powers and guidance to be provided to local authorities to better respond to any reasonable concerns raised by residents.


3.    Requests early sight, via email, of the report to Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to seek approval for the SCC project to make available SCC’s assets to support the 5G roll out and other wireless technologies.


4.    In relation to points 1 and 2, the Select Committee requests a briefing note on progress at the appropriate time but no later than 31 December 2022.


5.    Asks the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to have a briefing note prepared by 30 September 2022 to provide the committee with information on what legislation Statutory Undertakers must conform to in terms of repairs to the public highway after their works and what activities are carried out by the Council’s Streetworks team to ensure that Statutory Undertakers meet these requirements.


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