Super-fast broadband will not damage countryside, says government

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The government has defended itself against accusations that its plans to extend super-fast broadband in rural areas will damage the countryside.

Communities and Local Government Minister Baroness Hanham told peers: "Nobody wants to destroy, upset or prejudice national parks or areas of outstanding national beauty. That is not any aspect of what we are trying to do."

She was referring to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which would remove the need for broadband suppliers to undertake consultation before installing super-fast broadband in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), which was debated at committee stage on 30 January 2013.

Opposition spokesman Lord Adonis asked: "Why is this provision necessary at all? Why are we proposing to give such extensive powers to private companies that might damage the most beautiful landscapes in the entire country?"

A cross-section of peers supported his remarks.

Lib Dem Baroness Parminter said it would be "inconsistent to say the least" to allow "insensitive siting of broadband cabinets, poles, lines and masts, to disfigure AONBs and undermine the tourism industry".

Labour's Lord Judd, who is vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks, called the removal of the need to consult "a very dangerous clause indeed" which was symptomatic of "a society which has lost its sense of aesthetic value".

Conservative and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Lord Renton of Mount Harry spoke of a "tremendous falling off of strength of the national parks" and crossbencher Lord Cameron of Dillington pointed out that "the beauty of these areas affects the branding of all the businesses within the designation".

Conservative Lord King of Bridgwater said some members had made "exaggerated speeches" and emphasised that everyone shared the objectives of "rapid broadband extension, and proper protection of national parks".

Lady Hanham responded that the government needed to "close the rural-urban broadband divide" and reminded the House that removal of prior approval for broadband installation would be temporary.

She said it was necessary for "creating certainty, and reducing time and cost".

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