The word “wayleave” might not necessarily mean very much to most readers. But this legal agreement permits the installation of broadband – an essential for any company – so that it can reach the offices and businesses that need it.
As things stand, each connection requires a new agreement, and SME tenants, of which there are over 13,000 in the Square Mile alone, have to negotiate each time they want a connection. This can take months, involve expensive fees, can result in unnecessary delays, and in some cases can mean lost work.
In other instances, offices are ready for occupation and the lease has commenced before the broadband is installed. Quite understandably, businesses can’t move in under those circumstances.
But today is a big step forward in achieving a solution.
For the past few months, the City of London Corporation has been driving a project with London’s main developers, landlords, broadband operators and property managers to produce a wayleave agreement template to resolve delays and speed up the delivery of superfast broadband. To do this, we have been working closely with the British Standards Institution, Central London Forward, and the City of London Law Society to get this template agreed.
A meeting today at the Guildhall, with all stakeholder groups represented – from property developers to surveyors – brings us near to the culmination of this work. And to be honest, this cannot come soon enough.
The template wayleave should be adopted by all parties and it has already gained support from trade associations such as the British Property Federation and the UK Competitive Telecoms Association. It has the potential to reach out across the telecoms and property industries.
But while connectivity is important, so too is speed.
According to a study from last year by Hyperoptic, London was ranked twenty-sixth out of 33 other European cities in terms of broadband speeds. To put this into context, last month I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, where I got to see first-hand just why and how the tiny Baltic nation is ranked third on that same list. They have increased their average speeds by four and a half times in the last five years and climbed ten places in the list.
These problems are not affecting the Square Mile in isolation. With Central London Forward, we are promoting the wayleave agreement to all major property developments, while digital minister Ed Vaizey has endorsed the project and has written to major landlords and operators asking for their support. Indeed, the template could be used across the country.
While BT and other providers have indicated they will roll out new superfast broadband in the Square Mile, Broadband Delivery UK’s “Connections Voucher Scheme” funding, which sought to help SMEs get connected to that faster broadband, ended last week. The government must act to ensure a comprehensive approach to this issue so that SMEs get connected in London. Otherwise, they will suffer financially, or up sticks because of snail-paced broadband.
Getting the infrastructure in place as swiftly as possible is essential for the competitiveness of the City. We cannot afford to wait.