Bournville residents threaten legal action over broadband telegraph poles

Built as a model village on the outskirts of Birmingham for the Cadbury factory workers, Bournville has for over 100 years been subject to strict planning laws to preserve its picturesque charm.

But in recent months, more than 100 large telegraph poles have suddenly appeared on its streets and residents say they have become eyesores that are ruining the charm of the area designed by the Cadbury family.

“Because of where we live, I can’t even change my bathroom window without getting permission. Yet it seems as though these broadband companies can do whatever they like without getting permission from anybody,” said Trevor Wilson, 64, who returned from holiday to find a 10ft pole in front of his garden.

Resident Trevor Wilson, who has a pole outside his house. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

Liz Lund, 68, moved into her dream home in Bournville in 2020 for her retirement: “We just feel that it’s completely contrary to how the original Bournville village was conceived. When the Cadburys laid it out, they were very keen that it’s an attractive garden village with wide open streets, uncluttered streets, nice landscaping.

“We’re very concerned this is eroding what is really unique about Bournville.”

The poles were erected by broadband provider Brsk, which claims to be “rolling out the fastest full fibre broadband the UK has to offer”, and in many places is creating its own infrastructure to do so.

Telegraph poles are classed as “permitted developments”, meaning they do not require planning permission, although companies are required to give notice to the local planning authority.

Residents in Bournville say there was no prior warning or consultation about the erection of the poles, and they weren’t given any information on how to appeal against them.

They also said many of the poles have been coated in creosote, a coal-tar wood preservative banned for sale to the general public in the UK, which is leaking across pavements.

Fred Grindrod, Labour councillor for the Bournville ward, said it wasn’t the case that residents did not want the broadband technology, but felt cables could be installed underground or using existing poles.

“The Cadbury family were interested in making sure their communities kept up to date with the times. It’s not a case of saying, we’ve all got to be living exactly as we were in Victorian times. This is a progressive community,” he said. “But we want things done in the best way.”

Councillor Fred Grindrod and resident Liz Lund. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

The Bournville Village Trust, which manages the 1,000-acre estate where many of the poles have appeared, said it would consider legal action if necessary.

“We have and will continue to raise both our own concerns and those of residents to make sure that these are clearly heard and action is taken by Brsk to address the issues raised,” said Tracey Rowe, head of estates and stewardship.

“Some areas of the Bournville estate are protected by conservation area status and our own Design Guide and where any works breach rules in relation to this, we will take the appropriate and, if necessary, legal action.”

Bournville is not the only part of the country where rows have broken out over the erection of telegraph poles, as new broadband providers carve a place in the market.

In October, the Birmingham Edgbaston MP, Preet Gill, wrote to Brsk asking them to cease the erection of all poles in the constituency until residents had been consulted.

People in East Yorkshire have also been fighting to stop the erection of telegraph poles, amid a row between broadband providers over the sharing of infrastructure.

Campaigner Julie Dervey, from Hedon, a town east of Hull, said that what had started as a local fightback against the poles had “exploded” into a nationwide campaign, including a petition calling on the government to remove permitted development rights for telegraph poles.

“We were just a small group and we believed that we were the only ones this was happening to,” said Dervey. “But it’s happening all over, we’re now a nationwide group. The codes of practice say these companies are supposed to share any existing infrastructure. But they don’t want to do that.

“We’ve been pushing politicians to take action, get Ofcom to intervene. But the majority of people are just paying lip service to this, they’re not interested. They’re letting it happen.”

Brsk has been contacted for comment.

The Guardian