BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Part R aims to meet increased broadband demand

Building control surveyors need to understand the new Approved Document R's requirements for electronic communications infrastructure to help the government ensure faster internet across the UK

Author:

  • Jacob Senior

16 May 2023

Telegraph wires against blue sky background

With online learning, shopping and entertainment now increasingly common, having a domestic internet connection is crucial.

To meet demand for broadband, the UK government has published Approved Document R volumes 1 and 2 to set out the requirements for electronic communications networks infrastructure in buildings.

Both documents came into force on 26 December, and any building for which an initial notice, full plans or building notice was submitted after this date will need to comply with the regulations. However, if a notice was submitted before 26 December and work begins on site within 12 months of this date it will be exempt from the new requirements. When multiple buildings are being constructed, starting work on one will serve to exempt the rest of those on site.

Requirement RA1 and RA2 in volume 1 applies to the erection of a dwelling or of a building that contains one or more dwellings. Volume 2 only applies where RA1 does not apply. There is also a distinction in that volume 1 requires a network capable of providing broadband access at download speeds of at least 1,000Mbps – that is, one gigabit – whereas volume 2 only sets a minimum of 30Mbps, though this is still classified as high-speed.

Developers to ensure homes gigabit-ready

Volume 1 has been introduced to offer guidance for installing a gigabit connection that will enable faster internet as well as the infrastructure for it in new dwellings.

Requirement RA1 in volume 1 states that building work must ensure that each dwelling is first of all equipped with gigabit-ready physical infrastructure. This should extend from a termination point for gigabit-capable public electronic communications networks to a distribution point in the dwelling, or as close as is reasonably practicable.

The infrastructure would, for example, include the appropriate ductwork, chambers, cabling and network termination point for each dwelling, allowing for the connection to be installed.

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Cap imposed to keep costs down

The guidance states that the cost of installation should not exceed £2,000 per dwelling. If it does so – due to location, for example – the developer must install the next fastest technology under the cost cap. This will ensure that the best available technology will be used for the price.

RA1(2) then states that, for 'a building containing more than one dwelling, the work must be carried out so as to ensure that the building is equipped in addition with a common access point for gigabit-capable public electronic communications networks'. This means that each dwelling will be provided with an access point to receive the connection.

However, some work is exempt from requirement RA1, as per paragraph 1.6 of volume 1:

  • wholly non-residential buildings and existing buildings undergoing major renovation
  • new dwellings created through a material change of use
  • rooms for residential purposes in hostels, hotels, boarding houses, schools and other educational institutions, and hospitals and similar establishments used for patient accommodation
  • buildings to be occupied by the Ministry of Defence or the armed forces, or used for other national security purposes
  • buildings described in Schedule 2 to the Building Regulations on exempt buildings and work
  • buildings in areas isolated from a relevant network, where the cost of providing a Universal Service Obligation (USO)-standard connection would exceed the cost cap, and the prospect of a connection to such a gigabit-capable, high-speed or USO-standard public electronic communications network is too remote to justify equipping the building with suitable physical infrastructure or an access point. 

There are similar exemptions to RA2, detailed in paragraph 2.12 of volume 1. Buildings that are not listed among these exemptions may be covered in volume 2, though, which lists all exemptions.

Volume 2 focuses on high-speed networks

Volume 2 also provides guidance on how to ensure that the building has the appropriate physical infrastructure for high-speed electronic communication networks, similar to requirement R1, although the stipulation here is only for broadband access services at speeds of 30Mbps or more.

This applies to the construction of a new building or major renovation works, and states that, similarly to RA1, work must ensure the building is equipped with a high-speed-ready internal physical infrastructure, up to a network termination point for high-speed electronic communications networks.

Likewise where a building containing more than one dwelling, the works must ensure that it is equipped with a common access point for high-speed electronic communications networks.

These two requirements are the same as R1 in the 2016 edition of Approved Document R.

Requirements part of drive for broader coverage

In updating Approved Document R, the government aims to ensure that as many UK homes as possible have better connections, with a target for a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025.

These objectives form part of the government's £5bn Project Gigabit, which will begin by providing funding for faster broadband in hard-to-reach areas. A total of more than 500,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, County Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and the Tees Valley will be the first to benefit.

Connectivity plan made part of approval process

Before work starts on site, the developer must provide a connectivity plan when any relevant notice or application is made to the building control body. A model of a connectivity plan is provided in Appendix B of volume 1.

Information required in this connectivity plan includes demonstrating the location of the gigabit-ready physical infrastructure, including evidence of why it is being installed; or, if an exemption is to apply, evidence of measures such as the next fastest broadband being used. Assessment of this plan will be carried out when the plans are assessed by the building control body.

Failure to provide this connectivity plan could result in refusal of the application and initial notice, as per the following recent statement that Local Authority Building Control (LABC) included in an email to its members: 'LABC has approached the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about this matter, and we have been advised that [it is] also of the opinion that a failure to provide, at the time of the giving of the notice, a connectivity plan (or evidence of exemption) is a ground for refusal of the initial notice.'

'The developer must provide a connectivity plan when any relevant notice or application is made to the building control body'

 

Jacob Senior is an assistant building control surveyor at Assent Building Control
Contact Jacob: Email

Related competencies include: Legal/regulatory compliance

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