Croydon’s ambition is to become a world-class digital borough and leading destination for innovation, growth and individual opportunities.
Croydon is at the start of an exciting redevelopment programme of its town centre that will bring 10,500 new homes and 2.8m-ft2 of new retail and office space. Across all localities, further investment will also see more homes and local infrastructure improvement happen in the next few years. The borough is also home to one of the fastest growing tech communities in London.
To support this growth, we need to ensure that ubiquitous, reliable connectivity with sufficient speed and capacity is available for everybody and every business at all times, from established businesses, co-working spaces and individual offices, mobile workers and those working from home, day and night. We need to ensure that our businesses and residents have access to world-class digital infrastructure, and that our infrastructure is ready for the future.
Priority areas of intervention across all localities will be identified based on needs. In 2017, the council commissioned a review of connectivity across the borough that provided us with a good understanding of the current coverage in Croydon. Whilst Croydon is well positioned on superfast (speeds of 30Mbit/s) coverage with the latest figures showing that 98.5% of postcodes in the borough can have access to superfast connectivity, ultrafast (speeds of 300Mbits/s) coverage is only 5%, mainly residential, and there are still many areas in Croydon that still suffer from low connectivity or are “not spots” (with insufficient coverage).
Our key challenge is therefore to match our digital infrastructure with our ambition. We will improve digital connectivity across the borough by creating the conditions for, and enabling the provision of, digital connectivity infrastructure that is not only technically capable and future-proof, but also that its deployment and operation contribute to Croydon’s growth.
Our commitment to improve digital infrastructure
In their manifesto, the current administration pledged that:
- We will work to reduce digital exclusion in the borough
- We will make our technology user friendly and accessible to all
- We will develop our Smart City programme to ensure better connectivity and superfast broadband
The Corporate Plan 2018-2022 clearly sets out the council’s objective to provide ‘the best possible environment for businesses to sustain themselves and to further develop and grow’, by ‘ensuring excellent broadband is available to Croydon businesses’.
How we will deliver
To achieve this we will diversify our approach, looking at fixed, wireless and mobile solutions in a holistic manner. We will develop a digital infrastructure programme based on the 3 following priorities:
- To deliver full fibre roll out and public realm ultrafast connectivity;
- To prepare for the future in particular small cells and 5G technologies, and
- To position Croydon as an early adopter of innovation.
Our approach will be to ‘Open Engage Enable’ digital infrastructure across the borough:
- Open: to consider all ideas and solutions – new or already tested; be non-exclusive in our choices; open to sharing our experience with others and learning from others’ experiences
- Engage: pro-actively approach the market and facilitate engagement between providers and the community
- Enable: address barriers make it easier for providers and suppliers to work with us and in the borough.
We will do so by:
Encouraging more choice and competition
For (too) long the digital connectivity market has been dominated by one provider that would set the pace of delivery. Over the last few years, new competitors, the ‘alt-nets’ have appeared on the market, with new business models and new offers that challenge the incumbent operator. We will engage with all providers in a fair way to help identify new market opportunities that will stimulate investment and diversify the offer in Croydon.
We will also look to implement an open access by default approach for the roll out of the main infrastructure. This will help ensure that our businesses and residents have a wider choice of providers and broader range of services available that match their needs.
Making it easier for providers to invest and deliver in the borough
We will work to put in place processes to ensure that connectivity is included in all future developments whether residential or commercial. These processes should also drive greater collaboration between operators and the council to facilitate intervention and ensure a smooth roll out in the borough.
- The council is already working with utility providers on implementing new ways of working together. As part of the regeneration of the town centre, the council has developed a street work coordination and collaboration forum. It brings together council officers, developers and utility providers with the aim to develop coordinated plans of intervention. This not only allows for minimal street work disruption in the public realms but also creates opportunities for cost sharing leading to substantial installation costs reduction for providers.
Recognising the importance to bring on board connectivity providers, the council has started engaging and will continue to engage with them to encourage them to join this initiative.
- We will review our policies, in particular our planning policies, e.g. looking at mandating connectivity through provision in the Croydon Plan and Supplementary Planning Documents.
- We will use the guidance and toolkit developed by DCMS’s Barrier Busting Task Force, in particular around street works, permit schemes, traffic management and new ways of working with the industry.
Making better use of, and enabling access to our assets
The council has many assets that could be used for greater connectivity roll out. However, there are gaps in our understanding of what these assets are and their capacity to ‘host’ connectivity infrastructure.
We will therefore undertake a holistic data collection exercise of public assets with capacity to be used for connectivity infrastructure.
We will explore using our public buildings such as libraries and council service buildings as anchor tenants for the creation of fibre networks across the borough.
We will explore opportunities for ultrafast wireless connectivity, capitalising on public building rooftops with spare capacity and the modernisation of the council’s CCTV network. We will also facilitate whenever possible contact between providers and private developers.
We will also look at making the most of street furniture and advertising infrastructure in the public realms as opportunities to provide connectivity e.g. free public Wi-Fi provision and small cells.
Whenever possible we will apply an open and non-exclusive approach.
One specific tool that allows us to do so is the use of standardised wayleave to give access to our properties.
One specific area where this is proving impactful is the provision of ultrafast and affordable connectivity to social housing estates. As part of this programme, we have adopted and adapted the City of London wayleave template. By using the standardised wayleave together with a non-exclusive approach, we have been able to engage openly, fairly and equally with interested providers and negotiate with them shared social value outcomes in exchange of granting access to council’s housing estates. We have done so by developing a Social Value Promise Document that will accompany the wayleave. Although not legally binding the Promise document will capture the commitment of providers to deliver social value when rolling out their full fibre programme across Croydon’s social housing estate. This will range from apprenticeships and jobs to free Wi-Fi provision to digital inclusion and digital skills initiatives as well as environmental commitments.
Enabling fair access to connectivity for all
Equalities is at the heart of what the council does. Throughout our digital infrastructure programme, our aim will be to enable fair and affordable access to connectivity to all our residents and businesses and ensure that nobody is left behind. We will ask our partners and providers to contribute to our digital inclusion objectives. The social housing full fibre project is one example of this commitment where providers will deliver social value as part of their programme.
Enabling innovation and ensuring our infrastructure is future proof
We will engage with partners interested in investing and testing technologies in Croydon, from small cells to 5G technology or new forms of wireless connectivity. Through our smart city programme, we will seek to enable easier access to assets as well as identify test bed areas for deployment. We will collaborate and work in partnership with local tech businesses, innovators and residents to ensure that their needs and solutions are aligned and that they have the space and conditions to trial their new solutions.
Collaborating with other local authorities and public sector partners
We are already sharing, and will continue to share our experience with other London Boroughs and local authorities across England.
In London, we will continue to work closely with the Mayor’s Connected London team as well as multi & bilateral exchange with London Boroughs. Many of us are undertaking a similar journey and encountering similar challenges and issues. By sharing and working together we will ensure that we address the connectivity market in a consistent manner, thus creating opportunities for scale and greater benefits for residents and businesses.
Exploring funding opportunities
We will continue to seek funding opportunities, from Government (such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport connectivity programme) as well as opportunities to leverage private sector investment and sponsorship in digital technology. We will explore new partnership and business model options.
We will continue to promote the Government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme to our businesses and residents, and support its uptake. Wherever possible we will minimise cost to the council and seek cost-neutral solutions to deliver digital infrastructure in the borough.
This plan was developed collaboratively by the Croydon Digital Service and the Growth, Highways, Parking, Planning, Housing & Assets and Performance & Insights teams, as part of the council’s new way of working and delivering its services, designed to break down silos and encourage collaboration.
Marion Cugnet is the Smart Cities Project Manager for the Croydon Digital Service. Follow her on Twitter @m_cugnet.