BAD CONNECTION: Solihull estate’s broadband woes
Hundreds of residents fed-up with a “dire” broadband service on a newly-built Solihull estate are looking to raise some £30,000 themselves to get a better connection.
Homeowners on the Berry Maud housing scheme, in Shirley, have slated the council for not imposing stricter conditions when granting planning permission several years ago.
Previously residents had been caught up in rows over the fact that street lighting, pavements and other facilities had been left unfinished.
But concerns over the handling of the development have now flared up again, with locals – many of whom are working from home – saying their digital connections are woefully inadequate.
They are now trying to raise money to fund improvements but the council has ruled out helping to shoulder the costs, denying that “planning failure” had led to the current issues and insisting it had followed national policy at the time.
It has argued that while residents shouldn’t be “left out of pocket” it isn’t the council’s responsibility to make a financial contribution and has said it would pressure BT, insisting the installation should be viable for the telecoms giant.
Key worker Martyn Compton said lockdown rules – with many people trying to do business from kitchen tables or having to home-school once more – had reinforced the problems.
“It’s been a bit of a mess frankly,” said the National Grid employee. “We are trying to do what we can to push it forward.”
“[We rely] on the communications we have got … there are people who have been made redundant and they are trying to get new jobs and not being able to do video interviews.
“There’s quite a lot of animosity from the estate … Why the hell did the council give plans [approval] which did not have high speed internet provision?”
The 31-year-old, who moved in back in 2015, said around 200 properties were affected and while there was a lot of focus on rural areas, in fact there were other communities left behind in terms of broadband.
With many at the end of their tether, he said residents are looking to raise around £30,000, with Openreach contributing £64,000.
Neighbour Lachman Bhambra had also highlighted the issue at a decision session last month – saying that locals were all too used to seeing “the dreaded circle of death” – a slang term for a loading icon.
He said residents had struggled to make use of programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which had been “vital” to many unable to meet loved ones face-to-face during lockdown.
“As you can imagine at this time, internet and multi-media has become the most important utility for communication and keeping up with regular tasks.”
Cllr Andy Mackiewicz, cabinet member for climate change, planning and housing, said he was “fully sympathetic” to problems residents had experienced and was in particular concerned about BT’s handling of the issue.
“I think residents do need and have the right to have super-fast broadband.
“But I don’t think it’s the role of residents to pay for their own super-fast broadband, nor is it [for] the council to pay for this.
“My initial investigations indicate this is commercially viable for British Telecom to actually provide the service.”
He said council officers will “follow up” the issue and that there would be guidelines in the council’s new Local Plan to stop similar problems in future, but maintained that national policy at the time had been followed.
He had previously warned Full Council that making a financial contribution could open the door to requests from more than 2,000 other Solihull households who don’t have access to super-fast broadband.
Cllr Max McLoughlin (Green, Shirley South) said that internet problems were “incredibly stressful” and risked leaving residents further isolated when they were prevented from meeting in person.
“I think there has clearly been some oversight [during the process] and anything the council can do to support residents in getting broadband I feel that it should do.
“This is a new development that should have had this service at the outset and it hasn’t, so there’s something that has gone wrong there and it looks as though it lies with the developer.
“But the council has the means to expedite this and also reclaim from that developer I’m pretty sure … we really should try to put this right.”
Cllr Glenis Slater (Lib Dem, Elmdon) agreed that lessons needed to be learned.
“In this day and age you can’t live the way we all live without internet connection … you just cannot do it. Everything we do is run online.”
Neil Williams, managing director of Persimmon Homes Central, said: “Construction on this site began in 2014 by a consortium of Miller Homes and Persimmon Homes.
“The telecommunications infrastructure was implemented to the designs provided by the telecommunications network supplier, Openreach (formerly BT Openreach).
“We do understand the frustration of residents now that this network, a traditional copper wire-based network, does not meet their current requirements.
“It is for this reason that, as a business, we have moved towards Fibre to the Property (FTTP) installations in our newer developments, ensuring high speed broadband it available to all customers.”
Ownership of the estate’s telecoms infrastructure remains in the hands of Openreach.
A spokesman for Openreach – a division of BT – said a “huge amount” of work had been done to make faster broadband available across the West Midlands.
He said that recent initiatives meant that around 98 per cent of the region’s homes and businesses can access super-fast speeds.
But they added: “We know there are still some properties, such as this housing estate in Shirley, not yet able to access fibre broadband.
“Thankfully, that’s soon to change for people living here thanks to Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme – where we split the cost of building a fibre network with the local community.
“The CFP scheme is proving really popular, not just here in the West Midlands, but also across the UK. More than 100,000 homes and businesses have got fibre as a result, and we’re working with many others.”
Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter
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