Everyone should be able to benefit from Full Fibre, wherever they choose to live. It's why we're investing £4 billion in a multi-gigabit-capable, future-proof network that will pass 8 million homes across the UK by 2025. But let's be completely honest: some premises are easier to connect than others.
Compared to a house, a block of flats (or multi-dwelling unit (MDU) as our industry calls them) presents multiple challenges when it comes to installing fibre, not the least of which is agreeing with the landlord a wayleave granting us permission to access and survey the site.
Landlords don't just give wayleaves to anyone – and rightly so! It's their responsibility to ensure that work carried out on their properties conforms to building regulations, and they are more wary than ever about maintaining fire safety standards. They also want the work to be as nonintrusive as possible, and they certainly don't want their slick block of flats turned into a block of Swiss cheese by contractors drilling holes all over it. If a landlord has any lingering doubts, they won't sign on the dotted line. All these concerns and more are valid though, and it’s important for anyone seeking a wayleave to respect them and work with landlords to address them. This is how we’ve approached wayleaves and, over the years, we’ve found landlords increasingly interested in talking with us.
At CityFibre, our unique Well Planned City model ensures every network we build is designed at the outset to be capable of serving everything above ground far into the future. And we make every effort to leave no one behind in the locations we serve, engaging locally and doing everything possible to ensure every property in the locations we build can benefit from our infrastructure. We’ve taken the wealth of experience now under our belt and used it to completely redesign our approach to obtaining wayleaves around the factors landlords have highlighted as important. We keep communication lines open and work closely with them so that they understand the virtues of Full Fibre gigabit-speed broadband and understand exactly what's involved with an installation. We're also working with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to support the addition of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC). With ADR in place, if any disagreements over a wayleave were to arise, they could be settled quickly and amicably – ensuring proper consideration is given to both the concerns of landlords and the needs of their tenants.
Our collaborative approach works. So far we have connected 180,000 MDU properties to Full Fibre, and we have agreed wayleaves for a further 376,000. What's more, the average time it takes us to agree an MDU wayleave has fallen by a third over the last 12-18 months; the process typically now takes us just 3-4 months. It doesn't matter if a landlord works in the private sector or they are a social housing authority. Our approach to agreeing wayleaves has proved consistently successful in either scenario.
What does our approach to wayleaves actually mean in practice? It means meeting face-to-face with landlords on site, on their terms, so we can walk them through every step of the process. We discuss everything, from the best routes into the building, health and safety considerations, even the thickness of the cables we use.
Where a landlord owns several MDUs, we aim to make their life easier by drawing up a single wayleave that applies to their whole portfolio. If a landlord is reticent about that level of commitment, we let them dip their toe in the water by proposing to carry out an installation at one or two sites. They get to see what's involved, and we get to prove we're trustworthy.
We help landlords understand that as CityFibre, we build open access networks. This means that once the network is installed, residents can choose their own ISP. This was especially important for Thirteen Group, a landlord and housing developer that owns and manages 35,000 properties from North Tyneside to Yorkshire. Thirteen was quite rightly concerned that if they tied themselves to a single provider, and that provider's prices proved to be too high, then some residents would struggle to afford Internet access. With a CityFibre network, their tenants are free to shop around for the best deal. “An open network allows competition,” said Thirteen Group’s infrastructure manager. “That was a real driver for us because we have some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in the UK living in our properties. If one company was providing the network and the internet service, and its prices were too expensive, our tenants simply wouldn’t sign up to it. However, open access gives them the chance to shop around for a good deal and go with any provider they want. It gives them choice.”
We also help landlords understand the potential downsides of not deploying fibre. Broadband speed has become one of the most important factors for house hunters, and it can affect the desirability or otherwise of a block of flats. Tenants can become frustrated if their connection doesn't support the services they want to use, like 4K streaming, gaming, or video meetings. Renters and leaseholders might seek greener pastures. The message is clear: MDUs without gigabit broadband access are less desirable, which could affect sale or rental value.
Our work does not end when a wayleave has been agreed, of course. It's only just beginning. Landlords are still under no obligation to consent to the installation. It falls to us to explain in precise detail how we propose to carry out the work, all at no cost to the landlord. The plan includes pictures that show exactly how we intend to get fibre from the street into building’s comms room and from there into every individual flat. And when they’re completely satisfied then we’ll proceed and give tenants at least two-weeks’ notice before our engineers arrive on site, tools in hand.
We don't want our work on wayleaves to just benefit CityFibre either. We want it to serve as a new industry-wide benchmark, because ultimately this is about making sure as many people as possible can access gigabit speeds.
With CityFibre's ground-breaking approach to wayleaves, we're not just building Full Fibre networks, we're building strong, long-term relationships founded on trust and respect. Relationships that help to build better connected communities and ultimately bring the benefits of Full Fibre to landlords, their tenants, and the UK as a whole.
Explore more about how CityFibre is building a network that’s Better By Design.