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Ministers accused on broadband plan
The Government plans to install superfast broadband across the UK by 2015
Local authorities have accused ministers of "riding roughshod" over planning permission after Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced measures to sidestep council approval for installing infrastructure for superfast broadband internet.
While the initiative - designed to boost the economy - was cheered by business, councillors accused the Government of putting the interests of big companies over those of residents and risking damage to roads and the natural environment.
Ms Miller said the only way of meeting the Government's ambitions to install superfast broadband across the UK by 2015 was "sweeping away the red tape", echoing Prime Minister David Cameron's words on Thursday on relaxing planning restrictions on home extensions.
Announcing the measures, which mainly affect councils in England, she said: "Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country's future - to kick-start economic growth and create jobs. We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery."
The Government will legislate to ease planning controls on broadband junction boxes and overhead lines, and will seek agreement on streamlining the approval process for roadworks to speed up installation of the network.
But Local Government Association housing board chairman Mike Jones said: "Councils are as committed as Government to improving internet services for residents and business to help drive forward growth in their areas.
"However, the answer isn't riding roughshod over planning protections, and it's vital Government doesn't lose sight of the bigger picture in a race for short-term gain."
He added: "You cannot take away the rights of people to have a say on six-foot high, humming junction boxes outside their windows and gardens or poles and wires festooning their streets. Rushed and unnecessary roadworks to lay cables also risk costing council tax payers a fortune in repairs and, even when done properly, shorten the life of the roads."
Mr Jones said the barrier to progress was the Government's failure to get European Union clearance to spend the £530 million allocated to extending superfast broadband to rural areas - which accounts for around a third of coverage.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport admitted they were waiting for the green light from Brussels on investing in reaching remote areas but said the new plans would speed up work by companies installing superfast internet in the rest of the country.