December 10 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
We live in a digital age where the proliferation of laptops, tablets and smartphones drives an insatiable demand for ever-faster internet speeds.
But concern is mounting about the price that is paid – the clunky telecoms boxes that increasingly clutter our streets.
In recent years, campaigns have been fought and won against large BT cabinets installed in Hampstead and Highgate without planning permission, with Camden Council ordering the telecoms giant to pull them down.
However, at the start of the summer the government suddenly relaxed the law – stripping away local authority control.
For the next five years, telecoms companies have carte blanche to install broadband masts and cabinets in conservation areas without planning permission.
The government says this will ensure faster broadband for more people and firms.
Yet residents, conservationists and politicians in Hampstead and Highgate are worried by the move.
The Highgate Society’s Michael Hammerson said: “This is completely misguided and unnecessary.”
He added: “Everyone uses broadband, everyone needs it, and we have to accept equipment has to go somewhere.
“But it’s important we have an opportunity to talk with the operators about the best place to put it.
“If you have a conservation area, there’s not much point preventing people from doing things to their houses if operators can do what they like to the streetscape.”
The Highgate Society successfully lobbied to have a box, which was put up without planning permission, removed from South Grove long before the changes came into effect.
But in Hampstead the newly-relaxed planning rules are already having an impact.
A much-hated green box in Hampstead High Street will now stay put with the council saying it can no longer enforce an order made for BT to remove it.
Cllr Chris Knight, of Hampstead Town ward, said: “We go to all of this trouble to create conservation areas, yet it seems these people can come along and shove an ugly thing anywhere they like.”
Though the legal change relates to fixed-line broadband equipment boxes, they are not the only concern.
This week, residents noticed that four large cabinets next to a mobile phone mast in Spaniards Road, Hampstead – already blocking a sweeping Heath vista across London – had quietly grown to six.
The boxes have been put there to power faster 4G mobile networks.
Jim Roland, of Golders Green, said: “The more of these boxes there are, the more they are spoiling this lovely little spot and the view across the Vale of Health.”
One possible solution suggested by Mr Hammerson is to get artists to spruce up the boxes.
Another, cited by both Cllr Knight (Conservative) and his ward colleague Cllr Linda Chung (Lib Dem), is to put them underground – but BT says that would make them sensitive to flooding and “prevent efficient cooling”.
A spokesman for BT added: “We take great care with the positioning of our cabinets. We always follow planning rules and work closely with councils to take local opinions on board.”