Saturday 16 November 2013

The Future of Northumberland: Core Strategy

The County Council has recently begun its consultation on its preferred options for housing, employment, and the green belt in the proposed Core Strategy. All parish councils will be submitting responses, but individual residents are encouraged to submit their views too.

You can find all the consultation documents at Be warned, there are quite a few to look at, but the County Council wants representations in response to the 47 specific questions in the document "Northumberland Local Plan

It is all a bit daunting to wade through, especially the supporting documents that outline the statistical methodolody and underlying assumptions on which all the growth forecasts are based. However, I encourage everyone to at least tackle the Core Strategy Preferred Options Stage 2 Consultation Document October 2013.pdf  document and give their views on as many of the questions as possible.

In that document you will find proposals for significant housing development and changes to the county's green belt. It is right, in my opinion, to review green belt provision to see if it is still meeting the needs for which it was originally established. However, I do have concerns over the planned changes and the rationale behind them.

Population growth

The documentation outlines several population growth forecasts which suggest we can expect, approximately, a 4%–6% increase in population. However, the preferred options document is basing its planned housing development on growth of nearer 12.3% for Central Northumberland which is the 'Delivery Area' in which Stocksfield is located. This is based on, it seems, a model that a large increase in housing supply will lead to a net increase in employment (beyond the jobs involved in house building). For details see the section titled "Growing the labour force - building more new homes" starting on page 35.

The document EB03 - Population and Household Forecasts - Small area level - Published May 2013.pdf explains how the preferred growth forecasts were arrived at.

Green belt

Section 8 (page 58 onwards of the Core Strategy Preferred Options Stage 2 Consultation Document October 2013.pdf) document deals with the green belt. I draw your attention particularly to paragraphs 8.20 and 8.21 which state (emphasis mine): 
8.20 The existing Green Belt boundaries and approach to the treatment of settlements below Service Centre level, will in some places constrain the ability to allow for development to support diverse and resilient communities in these areas. The assessment work has identified that there are issues particularly in:
  • Acomb
  • Fourstones
  • Heddon on the Wall
  • Horsley
  • Newbrough
  • Ovingham
  • Ovington
  • Stocksfield
  • Wylam
8.21 The boundaries of these settlements will be reviewed as part of the preparation of the Delivery Document. This work will be undertaken using the same methodology that was used to identify the land to be removed from the Green Belt in Main Towns and Service Centres. The approach to the treatment of other Green Belt settlements below Service Centre level, including those that fall within the extension around Morpeth, will also be reviewed as part of the Northumberland Delivery Document.
The thing to observe here is that the proposed green belt deletions in Hexham and Prudhoe described elsewhere in the document are only part of the story and that further deletions could also be proposed in the villages listed above.


There is lots more to say, but the above provides a good starting point. I encourage everyone to take a look at the Core Strategy Preferred Options Stage 2 Consultation Document October 2013.pdf document and send in responses to as many of the 47 questions therein as possible. Note, that many of the questions relate to other parts of the county, so you might want to focus on those dealing with the Central Delivery Area which includes Prudhoe, Stocksfield, Hexham, etc. Specifically, these are Questions 4, 7, 8, 9, 10–18, 21, 31, 33, 34, & 36.  

You can comment on these proposals in several ways:

Friday 15 November 2013

Where's my cabinet?

In the last post we looked at what fibre to the cabinet means. The question then arises: what cabinet am I connected to and what speeds might I get when superfast broadband comes?

We saw previously that the maximum speeds we are likely to get is somewhere in the region of 25-30 Mbps compared to the 1-8 Mbps we get at the moment and that this is dependent on how long the wire is that connects your house to the cabinet.

Recently I was asked if I could help a resident who lives in one of the smaller settlements around Stocksfield identify where their cabinet was as their broadband speed seemed to be very low. Unfortunately, BT do not publish maps of where their cabinets are but with some helpful web sites we can, at least, find out what cabinet we are connected to and what broadband speed we should currently be getting. If you follow this up with a walk (or drive) around the area you might be able to physically locate the cabinet and thus determine how far you are from it.

Identifying your cabinet

To find out what cabinet your phone is served by, type in  your phone number to the box on this web page and hit the 'submit' button. (If the web page doesn't recognise your phone number there is a link on that page that takes you to a version that works with post codes.)

 This is what came back when I put in my own telephone number:

Telephone Number 01661XXXXXX on Exchange STOCKSFIELD is served by Cabinet 5
Available ProductsDownstream Line Rate(Mbps)Upstream Line Rate(Mbps)Downstream Range(Mbps)Availability Date
Featured Products
ADSL MaxUp to 8--7 to 8Available
Fixed Rate2----Available

According to that I am connected to Cabinet 5 and I should be getting a current broadband speed of 7-8 Mbps. I then put in the details for a premises in one of the local settlements outside of the main Stocksfield area and got this:

Telephone Number 01661XXXXXX on Exchange STOCKSFIELD is served by Cabinet 2
Available ProductsDownstream Line Rate(Mbps)Upstream Line Rate(Mbps)Downstream Range(Mbps)Availability Date
Featured Products
ADSL MaxUp to 0.75--0.75 to 2.5Available
Fixed Rate1----Available

Clearly, this house is a lot farther from its cabinet than I am from mine. This person reported they were getting very slow broadband and the results above confirm that this is to be expected.

While this will not tell you how fast your 'superfast' connection is going to be, it might give you an indication that if your're currently getting a speed towards the top end of the range then you will probably get a correspondingly high speed next year. Conversely, if your current speed is at the lower end (say 1 Mbps) then you will probably not be getting a 25 Mbps connection next year but it should be faster than you're getting now.

Of course, as soon as I find out any further information I will post it on this site.

Cabinets, wires, and speed.

In the last post I raised two questions that people might have at this point: what is a cabinet? and what will fibre to the cabinet mean to me?

What is a Cabinet?

Stocksfield is served by the telephone exchange next to the Branch End play area. Rather than run copper wires direct from the exchange to every premises, instead a number of roadside cabinets are installed around the exchange area. Each cabinet is connected back to the exchange and individual lines are then run from the cabinet to the premises it serves. This means that the length of the wire that comes into your house is as short as it can be. The problem with the old-fashioned copper wire that our telephone lines work over is that it was never designed for high speed digital broadband. The broadband speed you get is proportional to how far you are from the cabinet.

Cabinets are green roadside boxes and look like this:

or this:

What will Fibre to the Cabinet Mean to Me?

When superfast broadband comes to Stocksfield the new fibre-optic cabling will go to the Branch End exchange first. From there more fibre optic cables will connect the exchange to all the cabinets. It is this fibre optic cable that does all the superfast broadband magic. Fibre optic cables are able to carry much more data and at much faster speeds than old fashioned copper wire. That means that every cabinet will be connected to the telephone network at the new superfast speeds. Finally, your house will be connected to the cabinet with copper wire. 

Because the cabinet is now running at superfast speeds the copper wire to your house will still be able to pass on a lot of the extra speed. The question is, how much?

How Fast is Superfast?

In ideal conditions it is reckoned that the new superfast broadband service will be delivering speeds of up to around 25 or 30 Mbps (mega bits per second). Contrast this with the current up to 8 Mpbs service we currently get.

The speed you eventually get will come down to how fast you are from the cabinet to which you are connected. If you're very close you'll get somewhere near the top of the speed range, if you're farther away you will get a slower service. However, whatever speed it is, it should be faster than you currently get.

In the next post we will look at estimating where your cabinet is.

Gearing up for speed up

Well, it's been quite a while since I last posted on this topic. Back in July following a meeting I had up at County Hall I was told that we would be getting the detailed plans for BT's superfast broadband rollout. This information would have enabled us to identify the premises in Stocksfield earmarked for the upgrade and those which were not.

I had hoped to present a summary of this information at September's Stocksfield Festival but, unfortunately, even now in November I have still not had sight of BT's plans for our area. Since then a map has been published which I have reproduced in miniature below. You can see the full size version at However, even when viewed at maximum size there is insufficient detail to be able to see what parts of Stocksfield and its environs will be getting what.
Superfast Broadband Rollout Map
The best I can say at this stage is that it looks like a decent chunk of the Stocksfield exchange area will be getting the superfast broadband by the end of 2014 (and possibly by mid-year), but that's about as much as we can say. The other information I do know is that the broadband solution we will be getting is fibre to the cabinet (abbreviated to FTTC ). The alternative to this would have been fibre to the premises (FTTP) but as this would involve running fibre optic cables past every house it was unlikely to be cost effective in our area.

There are two questions people might have about this:  what is a cabinet? and what will fibre to the cabinet mean to me? I'll deal with these questions in the next post.