Fibre before beauty

Typical street of the Royal Borough of Kensing...

Typical street of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. (Spear Mews, looking towards the K + K George Hotel, 1, Templeton Place) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The leafy suburbs of London have had their issues with BT in recent years. The thing is, in order to get the superfast broadband speeds the telecoms giant offer, you need giant cabinets to hold all the network technology together.

Back in 2009, these monster street boxes got the residents of Muswell Hill up in arms. Not only did the people think they looked horrendous, BT had failed to get the correct planning permission to install them, leading to lengthy arguments and a long process of moving the cabinets to locations deemed more suitable by Haringey Council.

But if you want to really offend the upper echelons and their pretty postcodes, you have to look to a far posher borough…

Enter Kensington and Chelsea.

BT was planning on building 108 fibre cabinets across the area with the potential of bringing over 34,000 residents superfast broadband. However, the council worried about cabinets “ruining [its] historic streetscape” and turned down at least 96 of BT’s planning applications.

The local council dug the knife in further with a statement saying Virgin Media was able to bring them speedy connections without damaging the scenery and were a company “who obviously appreciate the very valuable market the borough represent.” Oooh, nasty…

However, it seems after almost a year, the bitchiness has died down, the need for pretty pavements has been quashed by the desire for megabits per second and by working together the council and BT have now found sites for 140 cabinets – even higher than the previous number – hoping to serve 50,000 residents and local businesses.

The statement released by BT and the council speaks of “the spirit of cooperation” and a spokesperson from the latter accused the media of misleading reports when the talks fell apart last May, saying discussions had been ongoind despite BT “taking a short break” from them.

How the words “BT are not proceeding with superfast broadband” can be misinterpreted or “we will… re-focus our engineers’ efforts in other areas where planning authorities have taken a positive approach,” escapes me somewhat. But, the important thing is sense has been seen.

Don’t get me wrong, you are reading a blog from a fully paid up member of English Heritage here. I appreciate the need for conservation as much as the next Mayfair socialite. But a tall, green cabinet at the end of the road can make a big difference to both residents and businesses in even the swankiest of areas of the world like Kensington and Chelsea and they should be happy with the chance of having the connections whilst many around the country wait to see if BT can even muster 2Mbps for them.

Common sense prevailing in a case between a huge telecoms corporation and a local council? I think I need a lie down… 

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