Decision details

CityFibre and Grain Connect Limited Operations in Reading

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: No

Is subject to call in?: No


CityFibre were a telecommunications service provider that was rolling out a new gigabit speed Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband Internet Service Provider network across Reading and into Wokingham and West Berkshire.  The project had started at the beginning of 2021 and the company had hired Instalcom to carry out the civil engineering work/installation works.  Once installed CityFibre would rent their fibre lines to telecommunications companies so that they didn’t have to install new fibre themselves.  Grain Connect Limited were also looking to provide a similar service in Reading, but on a smaller scale than CityFibre.

Stacey King, Regional Partnership Director CityFibre, and Paul Wilson, Head of Area Build CityFibre, attended the meeting and gave a presentation on CityFibre’s operations in Reading.  Roy Griffin, Regional Partnership Director City Fibre, joined the meeting online.

The presentation explained that CityFibre had been running a national programme to deploy a new generation of future-proofed digital infrastructure for the UK, were the second largest internet provider in the UK and their mission was to bring first class, state of the art broadband infrastructure services to Reading, including Wokingham and West Berkshire.  The company were in 285 locations nationally and were building in 75 of those locations currently. The places the company was looking to deploy in were part of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.  £4 billion was being invested nationally and within Reading this equated to a £58m investment.  The technology being deployed would serve everybody; domestic consumers, businesses, particularly smaller businesses and the public sector.  The company was building a once in generation upgrade of digital infrastructure in Reading by building brand new networks for the future.  CityFibre aimed to use existing access where they could, such as poles and ducts, and would rent space from Openreach and therefore the would be much less disruptive where that infrastructure was appropriate for them to use with work being completed more quickly.  The company was delivering to 100,000 properties across Reading.

The network was a wholesale network which meant that CityFibre did not sell to end users instead they had 35 Internet Service Provider partners within the network, although not all of them served every town or city and in Reading there were five ISPs in the network providing a range of choice for different budgets and requirements.

Finally, research had shown that the £58m being invested in Reading would result in £1bn of economic growth over 15 year.

The Committee discussed the presentation, asked questions and raised a number of points including the following:

·         Issues with the work in Caversham had included spoil and barriers being left on site when work had finished and traffic lights also remaining in place after the work had been completed;

·         The company acknowledged that there were lessons to be learnt from their work in Caversham such as, making sure they went out and pre-warned residents of work that was going to take place and making use of radio and local newspapers to ensure people were as aware as possible of what was happening;

·         Problems endured by some residents, particularly in Coley Ward, had included spoil left in driveways, barriers left in front of people’s properties and a lack/absence of notification Some of these issues were also reoccurring and had resulted in residents not just being inconvenienced, but being upset and damaging the reputation of the company. There was also a mismatch in what CityFibre said would happen and what had taken place;

·         There had also been issues with work on the Oxford Road with vans parking on double yellow lines and it was acknowledged that this had been a challenging area with work staring in the middle of the pandemic, as a result the number of gangs at individual sites had been reduced;

·         With regard to the Oxford Road Conservation Area, the company had tried to use existing poles as much as possible and, in respect of Houses in Multiple Occupancy a single cable would be connected to the building and then split for each residence rather than multiple cables going from the pole to the building;

·         Despite having thought work had been completed some areas were to be subject to further work and road closures, such as Jessie Terrace in Abbey Ward, and assurance was sought that a full briefing would be given before work started and that residents would be informed in advance and not just by letter;

·         All work was carried out under a permit and in the majority of cases was completed within the agreed time scale, occasionally this was not achieved due to the complexity of the work, which is what had happened, for example, in Caversham;

·         CityFibre concurred that the nature of their work was disruptive, but that they assured the Committee that they were very responsive when problems arose and issues were taken up with residents individually, if need be They also aimed to work collaboratively and to be as accommodating as they could be;

·         The company had worked closely with the Council’s Highways team and in November 2021 had presented an option to carry out the work in Caversham as quickly as possible and this had resulted in equipment being kept in place during peak times;

·         When there had been issues previously an improvement plan had been agreed with officers and as a result there have been improvements, however recently performance had reverted back to how it had been before the plan had been implemented and it was suggested that it should be reinstated;

·         A specialist traffic management company was employed to oversee the work and a team of engineers dealt with issues on site;

·         It was agreed that signage and communication could be improved to notify residents of work that was going to take place, of ongoing work and to apologise if there were problems; CityFibre confirmed they were working on changing signage on their sites and contact details should be available and visible on all sites;

·         Instalcom were independently audited on the quality of their work and that there was zero tolerance on defects; individual issues were taken very seriously and were discussed at executive level on a weekly basis;

·         Letters to residents could be tracked through an app and photographic evidence provided when they were delivered, although it had been discovered that one contractor had not delivered letters. It was also acknowledged that the letters put through people’s doors could be mistaken for junk mail and other methods of communicating with residents would be investigated;

·         CityFibre confirmed that work gangs that had caused problems for residents, such as leaving barriers outside their properties, had been removed from the job and no longer worked in Reading;

·         Finally, it was confirmed that it was unlikely that any other company would carry out such a large scale deployment in the town.

The Committee thanked CityFibre for taking part in the meeting and agreed that the situation would be monitored going forward.

Peter Murphy, Head of National FTTP Operations, Grain Connect Limited, also addressed the Committee remotely and explained that Grain Connect were the cheapest ISP in the UK and were not looking at covering the entirety of Reading, but only around 10 to 20 thousand properties.  Work would be carried out in phases, usually in blocks of a thousand properties, with the company using its own duct network.  Sites would be small and once completed the company would then sell the service to residents, therefore the aim was to not upset communities too much during the installation stage.  Residents would be told of forthcoming work in-person by the company with representatives going door to door.  Contractors and supervisors would be employed on-site to oversee the work and overruns were usually rare as the company only worked on two or three streets at a time.  However, there was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be complaints, but it was a smaller scale operation and the company had already been liaising with the Council’s Highways Team prior to work starting.

Resolved –

(1)    That the presentation be noted;

(2)     That Roy Griffin, Stacey King, Paul Wilson and Peter Murphy be thanked for taking part in the meeting;

(3)    That ongoing work in the Borough by CityFibre be monitored.

Publication date: 28/07/2022

Date of decision: 07/07/2022

Decided at meeting: 07/07/2022 - Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee