Policy I/DI: Digital infrastructure

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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What will this policy do?

This policy will set out how developments should contribute to Greater Cambridge’s requirements for broadband, mobile phone and smart infrastructure.

Proposed policy direction

Applicants will be required to submit a ‘Connectivity Statement’ with a planning application to demonstrate how their proposed digital infrastructure will meet policy requirements outlined below:

 

Broadband infrastructure

We propose that development proposals must provide gigabit capable connections, via multiple providers. where available, to each premise.

In locations where gigabit capable connectivity is currently available, the development will be expected to include the infrastructure to connect to these services and make them available to occupiers.

In locations where gigabit capable connectivity is not currently available, applicants will be expected to demonstrate that they have engaged a range of providers to upgrade infrastructure to deliver gigabit capable connections.

Where one or more providers have agreed to provide gigabit capable connectivity, the development should be designed to connect to this service and make it available to occupiers.

Where no agreement can be reached to provide gigabit capable connectivity at the present time, Superfast Broadband may be considered as an alternative. In addition, the development will be expected to incorporate dedicated telecommunications ducting to enable the provision of gigabit capable connectivity in the future.

In all cases, to encourage competition and consumer choice, this will include the provision of multiple ducts to enable several providers to access the site.

Gigabit capable broadband connectivity delivers download speeds of up to 1Gbps, the equivalent of 1,000Mbps. This compares to Superfast Broadband which provides speeds of 30 Mbps or more.

 

Mobile phone infrastructure

We propose that major development proposals of 250 homes or 10,000m2 must carry out an assessment of whether the current mobile coverage and capacity is suitable for the proposed new development.

In locations where mobile coverage is deemed suitable, no further action is required however the design of the development should consider the impact of building design on mobile coverage for existing and future occupants and take appropriate action to mitigate any adverse impacts.

In locations where mobile coverage is either available but the quality is poor and/or is expected to be impacted by capacity constraints or where coverage is not currently available, applicants will be expected to demonstrate that they have engaged with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to determine a strategy to ensure that mobile coverage can be improved and maintained at the site.

Where one or more MNOs agree to make improvements to their mobile coverage it must be confirmed whether this will be via:

  • MNOs adjusting their existing assets to improve coverage for the new development.
  • MNOs and the applicant agreeing a location for additional masts and/or aerials for which the applicant will facilitate installation including the provision of power, full fibre connectivity and maintenance access.
  • Any other approach agreed with the MNO.

Where no agreement can be reached to improve mobile coverage at the present time, the applicant must ensure that an appropriate location(s) for new mobile infrastructure is made available for future use, this can be in the form of roof-space, building frontage space, highways space or other land, all of which must have suitable access arrangements in place for installation and maintenance for the life of the installed asset. A suitable power supply and fibre connection must be made available to the location(s).

 

Small cell mobile communications technology

We propose that development proposals of 30 homes or 1,000m2 employment space must include suitable infrastructure that would support any future rollout of the latest small cell mobile communications technology. For example:

  • Require the design of street furniture in such a way that the installation of telecoms equipment and other sensors can be included and easily maintained without causing disruption.
  • Ensure that fibre connections are easily accessible to enable connection to street furniture such as street lighting columns to facilitate future improvements.

As the micro cell technology is still in development the Local Authority will provide the latest guidance on the design requirements.

 

Publicly accessible Wi-fi

We propose to encourage premises and spaces where there are significant levels of use by members of the public to have regular access to provide publicly accessible Wi-Fi.

Why is this policy needed?

The growth of connectivity over the last decade has resulted in digital technologies increasingly affecting many aspects of contemporary living. As a result, high quality connectivity is becoming an integral requirement for new developments.

Greater Cambridge’s economy is driven by businesses in knowledge-based sectors with businesses that rely on the use of cutting-edge digital technology. Cambridge Cluster Insights estimates that employment in knowledge intensive businesses in Greater Cambridge in 2019/20 was over 48,000 with just under 16,500 of these employed in information and communications technology (ICT) businesses. Indeed, for businesses across all economic sectors good connectivity is becoming a key element in achieving productivity growth.

The importance of good connectivity across the economy has been amplified by the behavioural changes from COVID-19 that has seen a significant rise in the number of people working from home. The ONS Labour Market Survey found that in April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment in the UK did some work at home. Of those who did some work from home, 86.0% did so as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A survey of nearly a thousand company directors by the Institute of Directors (IoD) in September 2020 shows that 74% of the business that responded plan to keep increase homeworking after Coronavirus.

Access is to good digital infrastructure in the home is not only important in supporting business growth. Digital connectivity in increasingly vital in supporting the wellbeing and social inclusion of local residents. Its absence can impact on the educational, employment, financial and health outcomes of individuals and families. It can lead to social isolation and an inability to participate in local communities.

There is a growing need to ensure that connectivity in Greater Cambridge supports existing and future demand; to not only support good internet and mobile phone access for residents and businesses, but also, via 5G and small cell technology, to provide a platform for “smart” technologies, including environmental monitoring and management, health, energy efficiency and future transport solutions.

The Government has committed to being a world leader in 5G, the next generation of wireless communications technology, with the majority of the population covered by 2027. 5G is likely to require both existing mobile infrastructure and small cell technology in order to provide the capacity needed for the large numbers of users and devices that it is expected to support and for the significant levels of data required for the future application of smart technologies.

Small cells are typically embedded in street furniture such as lampposts, advertisement panels, bus shelters or street signs. Due to the small size of the technology, the provision of street furniture that will have the ability, at some future time, to contain small cells it is not expected to have a significant impact on development costs. For example, a significant proportion of lampposts across the UK already have sufficient capacity/space to retrofit the technology.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

Respondents to the First Conversation commented that digital infrastructure has an impact on a wide range of issues, including the economy, reducing the need to travel and responding to climate change. A summary of respondents’ key points are as follows:

  • Respondents thought that including a policy relating to Digital Infrastructure in the new Local Plan to ensure the delivery of high quality gigabit capable digital connectivity was important.
  • Respondents saw high quality broadband as key to encouraging homeworking and remote working from rural locations, stating that it should be considered when drafting infrastructure, housing and design policies for the new Local Plan.
  • Respondents commented that land should be allocated to support growth in a range of high technology employment sectors, all of which require high quality digital infrastructure.

What alternatives did we consider?

1. No Policy – This is not the preferred approach due to the importance of provision for economic, social and climate change.

2. Continuing the current policy approach by just requiring ducting rather than for actual connections – This is not the preferred approach as this is insufficient to ensure infrastructure is delivered to support development.

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Topic paper 8: Infrastructure

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy TI/10: Broadband

Cambridge Local Plan 2018

  • Policy 42: Connecting new developments to digital infrastructure
  • Policy 84: Telecommunications

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