In Summer 2022, Michael was contacted by many constituents who were very concerned about the rollout of internet services by toob as the company was proposing to use new telegraph poles where no underground utilities were available.
Understandably, this raised great alarm amongst some home owners who felt their properties were going to be blighted by unsightly poles.
Michael raised constituents’ concerns with toob, and on 22 June 2022, a constituent very kindly informed him that they had received a leaflet inviting them to a meeting that was due to be held the following evening by toob.
Unfortunately, due to the late notice and existing diary commitments, Michael was unable to attend the meeting personally, but was able to send a member of his team to attend on his behalf. He was pleased that Heatherside and Parkside County Councillor, Edward Hawkins, was also able to be there.
At the meeting, residents were able to voice their objections very clearly. The CEO of toob, Nick Parbutt, agreed to suspend operations to allow a full review, which would take up to three months. Below is the update email Michael received on 1 July 2022 from toob's Business Manager, Gavin Pidduck.
‘Further to my email of 17 June below, I wish to provide you with an update on our discussions with residents in your constituency regarding our full-fibre network deployment.
As you may recall from my previous message toob is deploying a new full-fibre broadband network across towns and cities in the South of England with the goal of reaching 1 million premises over the coming 5 years. As the Government recognises this technology is essential to ensure the UK can thrive in an increasingly digital world and we are delighted to be playing our role.
To date we have covered approximately half of Camberley and Frimley and over the last few months we have connected hundreds of customers who are now enjoying 900Mbps upload and download speeds in comparison with the average of 95Mbps download and 22Mbps upload for the area. At only £25 per month many are saving money as well.
To deploy the network toob utilises as much existing infrastructure, particularly BTs poles and ducts, as possible minimising disruption and costs. However, where this infrastructure does not exist we have to construct new infrastructure to carry the network. This new infrastructure can include the erection of new poles if it is deemed the most viable solution.
toob’s initial network designs for some areas of Frimley included the deployment of new poles to a number of roads where currently there are no new poles. As toob started the notification process it became evident that there was a great deal of concern from residents to this method of deployment.
On 23 June we held a meeting with the residents of the Parkside area to listen to their concerns regarding the deployment of our full fibre network and the erection of new telegraph poles to facilitate this deployment. At the meeting it became clear that the residents were against the erection of new poles in this area of Frimley.
As a consequence of the meeting we have decided put the network deployment on hold for the Parkside area and to review the network design of the area, taking the residents feedback into account, and will re-engage with the residents once this work is complete. We have also taken a similar approach for a number of other roads in the area outside the Parkside area where there has been strong feedback against the deployment of new telegraph poles.
Furthermore, toob has placed on hold all new pole deployments in roads that currently do not have poles across Frimley. This provides us with the opportunity to engage other residents in the area on our network plans and to allow them to raise any concerns they may have. Depending on the feedback from these discussions we will then determine the appropriate course of action taking this feedback into account. We are currently working with the Heatherside Ward Residents Association to arrange these meetings.
During this period we will continue to deploy our network in other areas of Camberley and Frimley where there is existing BT poles and ducts that we can re-use.
toob has been established to provide an improved broadband experience fit for the 21st century to the communities in which we operate, it is not in our interest to alienate a community by the means in which we deploy the network.
I will write again once the consultation with the residents has been completed, communicating the next steps we will take. However, I wanted to assure you that toob is engaging with the local community and taking their feedback on board.
There was concern that some of the roads that toob agreed to review at the meeting had been omitted from the response above and on 18 July 2022, Michael wrote again to toob and asked for a comprehensive list of the roads under review.
On 20 July 2022, Michael received the following response from Gavin Pidduck, together with a copy of the letter toob sent to residents, which is attached below.
In response to your email of 18 July, I am confirming we have put on hold our new telegraph poles deployments in Langley Drive and Clarewood Drive to support our brand new full-fibre broadband deployment across Frimley and Camberley. When we deploy the network, we use as much existing infrastructure as possible, primarily BTs ducts and poles. Where this does not exist, we must deploy our own infrastructure, and in some cases, involves the deployment of new poles. I have attached the letter that we have sent to the residents of Langley Drive and Clarewood Drive for reference. This letter also went to the residents of Tekels Way, Fern Close and Hambleton Close. We are reviewing the network design in these roads and will re-engage with the residents ahead of any future deployment of the network. The review of the design will assess the viability of an underground deployment in these roads. For clarity we will not be deploying new telegraph poles in these roads.
In addition, we have also written a separate letter to the residents of roads in Parkside where no poles currently exist and we intended to deploy new poles. As with Clarewood Drive and Langley Drive we are reviewing the network design for this area.
Holly Hedge Road
Finally, last week we held a meeting in association with the Heatherside Ward Residents Association to engage with residents. At this meeting we also confirmed that we would follow a similar approach for roads in Heatherside where we had notified our intent to deploy a new pole and where there are no existing poles. The residents of these roads will receive a letter confirming this decision in the coming days. These roads are.
The full list of roads is everywhere that toob had placed a notice with an intent to deploy a new pole where there are no existing poles today.
toob will continue to deploy its network across Frimley in areas where there is existing BT infrastructure that can be re-used whilst this review of the design is taking place.
I do hope this clarifies the situation and reassures residents that we have listened to their feedback and are taking this into account in our review.
If I can assist further or clarify any point, please contact me.
Michael responded to toob on 25 July 2022, asking to be kept up-to-date.
On 10 August 2022, following correspondence from residents on Martindale Avenue, Michael wrote again to toob to raise concerns that Martindale Avenue was not included in the list of roads under review. Michael asked toob to clarify the situation as urgently as possible and he received the following response on 15 August 2022:
Thank you for your email of 10th August. We are sorry to hear some residents in Martindale Avenue, Camberley have raised concerns with you about toob’s recent communication.
As you recall from my email on 20th July, we have placed on hold the deployment of new poles in a number of roads across Frimley following feedback from residents and we are looking at the design of these areas to determine whether an underground network deployment would be viable. We have also put on hold the deployment of new poles in roads that do not currently have poles across Frimley so that we have the opportunity to engage with residents.
When we have reviewed the designs, we have looked at one section of Martindale Avenue where we need to deploy new infrastructure in order to open up a part of the Heatherside that has BT underground ducts and therefore serve several hundred homes with toob’s full fibre network. We have a choice as to whether we complete this link in the network either by putting it underground or to take the network overhead using new poles. This is a relatively short section of Martindale Avenue and would require four new poles. Two of the new poles would be by the public car park and outside the community centre and two would be visible from a small number of homes further down Martindale Avenue. These two poles would be situated and placed discretely next to existing trees and would have a minimal visual impact. Given the proposed location of the poles we believe this to be the least disruptive design in comparison to having to dig a new trench in a footway that carries a number of existing services.
Given the feedback we had regarding poles, we informed the Heatherside Ward Residents Association on 8th August that we wished to place four poles on Martindale Avenue to gain their feedback and to inform them that we would be contacting the residents directly. Our lead network planner, James, spoke to some of the residents in the homes close to the proposed pole locations on 11th August. The feedback we received from most residents was positive, in that there were interested in our service and raised no specific concerns regarding the erection of the poles. A few of the residents did raise concerns. This week we will send further information to these residents to address specific questions raised on the doorstep, provide a map with the proposed pole locations and provide them with a further opportunity to provide us feedback. We will also notify the planning department at Surrey Heath Borough Council of our proposed pole locations in order to gain their feedback. Once we have received the feedback from both residents and the planning department, we will determine whether poles are indeed the best solution or revert to an underground solution with the inevitable disruption this will cause.
I suspect the resident(s) had heard that we had contacted the residents association and have concluded that we will be deploying new poles imminently. Whereas, hopefully you can see by our actions our intent is to engage the residents ahead of time so that we can gain their feedback on the proposal and deliver the solution that causes the least disruption.
If I could ask whether you could gain permission to share the details of the resident(s) that are concerned with us, then we can contact them directly in addition to the actions we are taking.
Finally, we will be contacting the residents of Gilbert Road and Greenbank Way in the coming days. We are at the stage of designing this area and as there are no existing BT ducts or poles, we are looking for proactive feedback ahead of developing these network designs. I mention this in case residents contact you from this area as has happened with Martindale Avenue.
If I can assist further or clarify any point, please contact me.
Michael continued to keep in touch with toob on behalf of residents, and following his correspondence of 23 September 2022, 4 October 2022 and 20 October 2022, Gavin Pidduck replied with the following response on 21 October 2022:
Thank you for your emails of 20 October, 4 October and 23 September requesting outcome from our 3-month review outlined in my previous emails to you.
We have agreed not to deploy new telegraph poles in areas of Heatherside and Parkside that do not have poles today. We are looking to pilot an alternative means of deploying the network underground. The build techniques we are looking at are used extensively by other telecommunications companies, however they are new to toob. We are therefore going to pilot this approach in an area before committing to a wider roll-out so that we can fully test all operational and commercial considerations. This pilot will need to be programmed in with our contractors and therefore this is unlikely to take place until early 2023.
We will of course provide the appropriate communication to residents when we conduct this pilot and to the broader community once this has been complete and we can determine the way forward.
I would state that stability of the Government and the financial markets would improve certainty given the financing costs for companies like toob have risen considerably in the last few weeks
I will be in contact with you to provide a further update from our pilot and reviews as soon as possible.
Please contact me in the interim, if I can assist further.
14 March 2023 - Michael wrote again to Gavin Pidduck to request an update on the pilot.
21 March 2023 – Gavin Pidduck responded with the following:
I am responding to your email of 14 March, toob for a number of operational reasons has not identified a suitable area to do our pilot of an alternative method of deploying full-fibre to premise broadband. This relates to specify roads in Heatherside and Parkside ward areas where our planned new telegraph poles installations are on hold to support toob’s full-fibre to premise broadband deployment on hold.
Once we have an update, I will be in contact with your office.
28 March 2023 – Michael replied to Gavin Piddick that he was looking forward to receiving a further update.
2 June 2023 - Michael wrote to Gavin Pidduck to raise the opposition of Bath Road residents to the possibility of toob’s installation of new telegraph poles and he responded on 15 June:
Bath Road potential deployment of toob full-fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband is currently on hold in Bath Road, GU15 4HP and we going through our engagement process with the residents. Part of this process is to look for suitable options that work for both the residents in such a small road and toob.
20 July 2023 - Michael wrote again to Gavin Pidduck to chase a response regarding toob’s suggested pilot of an alternative means of deploying the network underground.
4 August 2023 – following news that toob is planning to rollout broadband in Ash, Mytchett, Frimley Green and Tongham, Michael wrote again to Gavin Pidduck to request further details about toob’s plans and pressed for a response regarding the aforementioned pilot. He also wrote separately to toob on behalf of Oakway Drive residents who have expressed concerns about the proposed installation of telegraph poles along their road.