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Clause 7 - Electronic communications code: the need to promote growth

Part of Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 29th November 2012.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 2:00 pm, 29th November 2012

It is hardly surprising that the Campaign for National Parks wishes to delete all of the clause. In its evidence to the Committee, it pointed out, quite rightly, that its

“Mission is to inspire everyone to enjoy and look after National Parks”— which it describes as—

“The nation’s green treasures.”

I think that is how we all experience them, at the moment in any case.

Of course we all wish to see those green treasures left in a fit state to pass on intact to future generations. Surely, that is what is at risk from the measures in the clause. All of us accept that the countryside cannot be preserved in aspic, and that rural areas need growth too. I would have thought that there is universal agreement across the Committee that people in rural areas want and need broadband too.

As the Campaign for National Parks pointed out, the Committee has received no evidence whatever that the additional protection afforded to designated landscapes has acted as a barrier to rural growth or delayed the roll- out of broadband. Indeed, it suggested that the opposite has taken place. National park authorities are taking a proactive approach to facilitating broadband and mobile delivery, but in a way that minimises the visual impact. It gave a number of examples. In Northumberland—a county close to my heart because it borders my constituency in County Durham—the national park authority has worked with the local enterprise partnership to gain £1 million for a rural growth hub right in the centre of the national park. That included delivering high-speed broadband. Further, it has worked with Northumberland county council to deliver improvements to 3,000 adjacent premises.

In the Peak District national park, mobile phone operators have discussed their roll-out plans with the national parks authority prior to submitting an application. That has made it possible to avoid siting masts in the most damaging locations in wild corridors or to design them in such a way that minimises their visual impact. Furthermore, the South Downs and New Forest national park authorities are members of the rural economy  action group. They have supported bids by Hampshire county council and West Sussex county council to Broadband Delivery UK. There are many more such examples. I will not extend our deliberations unduly by going through them one by one.