An ARC News Service report of the discussion at the planning committee of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) on March 10, 2015 concerning the provision by Airwave Solutions of superfast broadband to West Witton and the subsequent placing of tree preservation orders on the two trees at the Fox and Hounds. For other reports from the March meeting see February to December 2015.
So yet again the YDNPA offices at Bainbridge, where the planning meetings are held, are being quoted as an example of “do as we say” rather than “do as we do”.
The West Witton residents who attended the planning meeting were delighted when a compromise agreement was reached to allow a national pilot scheme for superfast broadband to go ahead in their village. They were especially pleased that the chairman of the Authority, Peter Charlesworth, fully supported the scheme.
But within days their delight turned to anger and dismay because the Authority issued those tree preservation orders which would probably have made it impossible for the scheme to be launched by April. They asked how the Authority can say it wishes to support the provision of modern communications systems in the Yorkshire Dales and yet make it so difficult to achieve.
On March 16 North Yorkshire County councillor John Blackie sent an email to the YDNPA at 9.36am asking for an explanation. And West Witton parish councillor John Loader then sent a comment with the good news that agreement has been reached over work on those trees. He added: “Am checking site for crested newts, dormice and giraffes just in case another bit of the Park puts its oar in.”
It had been hoped that the aerial masts would be in place by the end of March but on the 27th Mr Loader reported that Galloway Estates who are managing the installation had hit a couple of administrative problems with two sites. It hoped to start work using early access agreements whilst the paperwork was dealt with. The aim is to have all the sites up and ready to run in three weeks – that is by mid April.
Report of the discussion at the planning meeting:
The ‘tourist dance’ will soon be a past memory in West Witton in Wensleydale thanks to the planning committee approving plans for four masts to be erected by Airwave Solutions as part of a nationwide pilot project to bring superfast broadband to rural areas.
West Witton parish councillor Mr Loader told the committee that mobile phone companies were now offering free apps which enable users to connect with networks when they are in a WiFi zone. He explained that the masts would create such a zone – a WiFi cloud. “That means the end of the tourist dance where people walk up and down the road – even climbing on walls,” he said.
Both he and Richmondshire District councillor, Matthew Wilkes, were surprised at the number of residents who had attended a meeting in West Witton to discuss the scheme proposed by Airwave Solutions. “It was called by the people proposing this because they were worried that the village was going to object. There was not one objection.”
He added that they were very proud to be part of such a pilot scheme and totally supported it. “This is vital for the village as it’s going to serve well over 100 properties. That includes some of our hospitality businesses. The internet is (now) viewed as a utility.”
Cllr Wilkes said that keeping up with modern technology was vital in rural areas and was one way of stopping the exodus of young people and families. He knew of Dales-based businesses which had already seen a dramatic increase in growth since superfast broadband had become available in their area.
To which Cllr Blackie added: “Some of the communities I represent in Upper Swaledale don’t even get terrestrial TV or radio – they’ve been left behind by modern day communications. There’s no broadband, no mobile telephone (network) – until recently they had party lines.
“It’s very difficult if you can’t make internet connection,” he said pointing out that farmers needed it to record the movement of livestock and even primary school children used it to do their homework. “We must ensure in future that when we have new technologies like broadband we don’t leave communities behind.”
Peter Charlesworth commented that since becoming chairman of the Authority he had visited many parish councils and had assured them that the YDNPA was committed to bringing high speed broadband to the communities in the Dales.
“As was said at the Rural Summit organised by Cllr Blackie last year, we are desperate to keep employment, to bring employment to our communities, to keep them alive and above all to keep young people and families in the Dales. This is one of the most important ways we can support them. Obviously we have to balance it with the landscape – but here the benefits should clearly take precedence,” he told the meeting.
Originally the planning officer had recommended refusing permission for two of the masts – that in the Fox and Hounds car park and the other at the playing field – because they could have a negative impact upon the landscape. But for those two Airwave Solutions had changed their applications from permanent installations to temporary.
The planning officer commented: “Taking a pragmatic view this would seem reasonable given that this is a pilot project and would allow the authority to assess the impact of the masts through the changing seasons and allow sufficient time to enter into a dialogue with the applicants to discuss alternative solutions and designs if it was considered that the masts were harmful.”
He had been particularly concerned about the impact of the 13m slimline mast with its four antennae and two dishes would have on the Fox and Hounds which is a Grade II listed building, and that it would be visible from the A684. Cllr Loader, however, argued that it would be very little higher than the tree it would be positioned close to, and that the entrance to the car park was so narrow that most people would not see it from the road.
Cllr Blackie commented: “I see that wiser council has prevailed and we can move forward on a sensible compromise.” He explained that the pilot project was necessary because the cost of bringing superfast broadband to villages and towns which did not have cabinets that could be upgraded was proving to be so expensive.
In his report the planning officer noted that as the government’s target of 90 per cent superfast broadband coverage in North Yorkshire had already been achieved there were no plans for further BT administered fibre-optic links to be provided.
The scheme at West Witton is part of one of the eight national pilot projects being funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport with the objective of finding out which was the most cost-effective.
All four masts at West Witton are required for the project to work. That at Penhill Farm at the top of the Stoops will receive the signal from Leyburn telephone exchange and will transmit it to those at the Fox and Hounds and the playing fields. The signal from the mast at the Fox and Hounds will be relayed to that at Wynbury Stables. It is also hoped to serve 40 households at Preston under Scar from the mast at Penhill Farm.
Airwave Solutions plan to run this trial in West Witton for 12 months.
The following reason was given for issuing the tree preservation orders:
The Authority has made the order for the following reasons: the planning application has been approved by the Authority to install superfast broadband mast within the car parking area to the rear of the Fox and Hounds public house.
The proposal is to install the mast in close proximity to two mature trees, one ash and one sycamore. At a pre-application meeting the developers proposed that the sycamore could be removed to facilitate the installation of the mast. The senior planning officer present was concerned that the removal of the tree was unnecessary and that it should be retained.
On inspection of both of the trees they appeared to be in good health with no obvious of poor health or structural defect. The trees are situated in a prominent location and are visible from the main street and neighbouring properties and a nearby public way/right of way and it is considered that they make a significant contribution to the amenity of the surrounding area. They also screen where the new mast will be located if planning permission is to be given.
Cllr Blackie’s email to the YDNPA at 9.36am on Monday, March 16:
Having been Community Hero for one day on the issue of Superfast Broadband for West Witton, the YDNPA turned into Community villain the very next day by serving a tree preservation order that will stand in the way of progress being made quickly to deliver the pilot SFNY service.
This is not the favourable community outcome painted in and promised by the press release the Authority issued. As the member who seconded the Officer’s recommendation for all 4 masts in West Witton I wonder if you could tell me please what is going on ??
I will be knocking on doors in West Witton in my Election Campaign (he is standing as an independent parliamentary candidate for Richmondshire), and householders will understandably want to know from me about a YDNPA that has a public persona of going the extra mile to help the local community and a private stance of doing its absolute best to put obstacles in its way.
Duplicitous (or worse, dishonest) are the words those from West Witton who have contacted me have said about the YDNPA and the imposition of the TPO.
At 10am he received a response from the YDNPA chief executive, David Butterworth – hence, he said, the full steam ahead email to Mr Loader.
Below is part of the press release issued by the YDNPA immediately after the masts at West Witton were discussed at the planning meeting. I can’t help feeling that it is a shame that neither Chris Armitage nor the press officer were told about that steps taken to impose the tree preservation orders!
Chris Armitage, the Authority’s planning committee deputy chairman and Member Champion for Development Management, said: “As part of looking after this special place, the YDNPA also has a duty to seek to foster the well-being of our local communities.
“In the National Park Management Plan we and our local partners made specific commitments to improve access to broadband as part of our efforts to try to keep the area special, while helping it to thrive. We believe it is crucial that local businesses and households should have decent broadband access – with superfast broadband in place for areas with significant population.
“The National Park is a sensitive environment. We have been working very closely with Airwave to make this positive planning decision possible. We look forward to working with Airwave to assess the outcome of this pilot and, hopefully, to being able to add more areas to the broadband access list in the near future.”
A spokesman for Airwave said: “Over the last six months, Airwave has worked closely with the National Park Authority, the parish council and local residents to identify an innovative approach to providing superfast broadband in West Witton and the Esk Valley, and we can now begin the work needed to deliver a trial.
“Our experience in providing a resilient and dedicated emergency services network – covering 99 per cent of Great Britain’s landmass including remote and rural areas – means that we have the knowledge and skills needed to help address the challenges faced by rural communities like West Witton.”