Ultrafast Broadband for Havant – An Opportunity

Havant Civic Society keeps a watchful, and we hope constructive, eye on Havant Borough Council’s Regeneration Strategy. We note that the strategy is framed almost entirely in terms of building projects, both commercial and residential, with little mention of the necessary underpinning infrastructure. In our modern, digital world, fast and reliable broadband is an essential part of that infrastructure and should be regarded as a utility, no less vital than roads, electricity and water. It is therefore a little worrying that the word “broadband” appears only twice in the 334 pages of HBC’s new Local Plan, currently being scrutinised by the Inspectors.

Havant Borough Local Plan

Recent developments in the telecoms world have presented HBC with an opportunity to accelerate the arrival of fast, modern broadband in our area and we are keen to ensure the Council grasps it. You too, dear reader, have a part to play.

So, what is going on?

A recent announcement by Ofcom – Ramping up the rollout of full-fibre broadband – Ofcom – has made it commercially more attractive for telecoms companies to accelerate their ultrafast broadband plans in urban areas, rather than relying on Government intervention. Ultrafast is defined by Ofcom to mean broadband with a speed of between 300Mbps – 1Gbps, though may also be used for broadband packages with speeds faster than 80Mbps. It is also often referred to as Full Fibre. This is provided through Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology. (By comparison, those fortunate enough to live in parts of the borough served by Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) will be enjoying Superfast broadband, defined as speeds of 30Mbps or higher. In practice, it is often slower.)

Local CityFibre Rollout Programme

The Ofcom announcement has prompted an eager response from network providers. CityFibre, a company that is currently installing its own FTTP network in Portsmouth, has announced plans to rollout full fibre to another 216 towns and villages across the UK between 2022 and 2025. Havant (east of the A3(M)) and Emsworth are included – see map here: Nationwide Full Fibre Rollout Programme – CityFibre. There will be a number of factors that influence CityFibre’s decisions on which areas to install first and, left to their own devices, Havant and Emsworth could quite possibly be 215th and 216th on their list. One of these factors will be the level of interest in having ultrafast broadband installed shown by residents and businesses in the targeted areas.

This rollout programme presents HBC with an opportunity to advance its regeneration agenda by proactively encouraging CityFibre to place us in the early part of their schedule. The large residential development coming at Southleigh, for example, would be an attractive business opportunity for the company and the Council will – one hopes – have an estimate of the number of businesses it expects regeneration to bring to the Borough. In turn, the presence of ultrafast broadband here will encourage businesses, especially small and home-based ones, to locate in Havant. Through enhancing homeworking capability, it will also reduce out-commuting, which is a key objective of the Regeneration Strategy. HCS therefore encourages HBC to grasp this opportunity while it exists – the CityFibre rollout programme is currently being planned and it will not be too long before it is finalised.

BT too is planning a rapid expansion of its Openreach full fibre network: Britain’s BT to build fibre ‘like fury’ after regulator’s greenlight | Reuters.  Although there is no detail available of its intended geographical coverage, there is clearly an opportunity here too for HBC to seek to encourage BT to prioritise Havant in its scheduling.

I mentioned that there is a role for you in this. First, whether you have a personal desire to improve your home broadband or not, please go to the CityFibre website and register an interest in their full fibre product: CityFibre – Residential. This is entirely without obligation but will help encourage the company to see Havant as a commercial priority. Please encourage all your friends, neighbours and work colleagues to do the same.

Also, do contact your local Councillor, to ensure he or she is aware of this issue and to encourage them to put pressure on the Council to be proactive. With a bit of effort and some good fortune, it is entirely possible we could see ultrafast broadband in our area within 18 months.

Vernon Stradling – HCS Treasurer

September Digest – A ‘perfect storm’ warning?

[Originally written as an email update to members]

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the website, you’ll be aware of the staggering amount of change happening around us.  If you haven’t, then please take the time to follow the links in this email to read more detail.  While the primary focus of the Civic Society is on the centre of the town around St Faith’s, we cannot ignore the wider context of the borough and the length of this email simply reflects the fact that there is an awful lot going on.

The current pandemic has changed the way we work, shop, meet, communicate and use public transport and some of that change may well be permanent. Nobody can sensibly predict the impact that this dramatic change in circumstance will have on the profile of Havant’s residential and business communities. Central and local government are not making life any easier either, threatening a ‘perfect storm’ of change, much of it firmly rooted in pre-Covid, now obsolete, thinking.

The house building target of 504 homes per year from the ‘Havant Borough Local Plan to 2037’ was torpedoed in August by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government white paper on ‘Planning for the Future’. The updated ‘housing need’ algorithm jacked up the Havant number by an astonishing 91% to 937 homes per year. CPRE has been leading the charge against this unprecedented escalation of housing targets in the south, and bowing to pressure from the residents’ groups which make up the Havant Borough Residents’ Alliance, Havant Borough Council has finally seen the light, executing a handbrake turn and pushing back against the white paper just hours before the consultation deadline yesterday.

Meanwhile, European legislation on ‘nitrogen neutral’ development triggered a moratorium on new development approvals in the region this year. This EU directive provided protection for the environmental and ecological health of the Solent which is in serious decline due to the levels of agricultural and wastewater sourced nitrate laden pollutants flowing into it.  For a housing plan to be approved, a developer must prove no net increase in the pollution entering the Solent from their site.

Desperate to clear the planning and development log-jam and meet the increasingly unrealistic house building targets, HBC and other Solent area local authorities jumped on the ‘re-wilding’ bandwagon stitched together by Natural England and the Wildlife Trust.  Touted as a ‘win-win’ solution for the charity, the developers and the local authorities alike, the reality is that it is based on a convenient and selective interpretation of science with the main losers being the residents and the wildlife. Warblington Farm will evolve into a wildlife sanctuary over time as HBC calls off areas of the agricultural land to ‘re-wild’ and generate nitrate credits to sell on to the likes of Persimmon Homes. The government’s proposed online ‘nitrate trading’ auction platform will surely only accelerate this process.

In the midst of all this, HBC are charging headlong into an ever closer union with East Hants District Council. The executive and senior management layers of the two authorities merged a while ago, but we are concerned that the recent decision to move to a single combined workforce will have an adverse impact on the morale of the staff and the quality of the services delivered to you. With the council’s call centre sited in Coventry and services managed from Petersfield, the future doesn’t look too bright for us.

The depression at the centre of this perfect storm is deepening while political eyes are off the climate change ball.  Predictable change in the integrity of the coastal margins should be ringing warning bells against increased housing development in some southern parts of the borough anyway. With central and local government budgets stretched, the cost of local coastal defence strategies may not always remain justifiable.

With so much change – and we’ve not even mentioned Brexit – we believe HBC should stop and take stock of the pre-Covid foundations underpinning previously published ‘strategies’ before this all ends in tears.

Please take the time to read and digest the website links in this email.  As HBC adopts their new ‘Digital’ strategy with the emphasis on remote online communication, we will endeavour to keep you up to date through our website, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and the occasional email.

If you didn’t receive this recently as an email, then you’re not on our mailing list! To fix that, simply take this link and join us.

#rethinkhavant

HBC handling of public comments on Planning Applications

Back in December when we were still celebrating the Development Management Committee (DMC)’s decision on the original Domino’s application for 39 West Street, we reported that the developer had re-submitted the application. The cynical timing of this over the Christmas and New Year holiday period highlighted a typical developer’s approach to sliding an application through while potential objectors are distracted.

However you were not put off by this and forty of you responded to the new application expressing your concerns. Despite this, it soon became apparent that the Development Management Committee were running scared of the developer’s threats to take them to a planning appeal and a consequent appeal for their costs. That threat was clear in the only material change in the developer’s application, the rather obvious inclusion of a list of successful outcomes of previous Domino’s planning appeals in other towns.

At the DMC meeting on January 24th, the committee chairman appeared to deliberately ignore the public comments and in a rather obvious pre-meeting huddle presumably issued a ‘three line whip’ to the members of the committee to secure his desired result. To those of us present in the public gallery, the meeting had descended into a farce.

We’re still waiting for a response to our last email on the matter. It’s all rather disappointing considering the time and effort taken by forty local residents over the holiday period.