Faster broadband comes at ugly prices

An army of green metal broadband boxes is rapidly joining the ugly plastic wheelie bins outside London houses, and BT plans to install 52,000 for the whole of the UK by the end of the year
Terry Worby
© Martin Pitchley
Terry Worby, had a cabinet installed outside her house in the village of Bearsted, near Maidstone, Kent, without any warning in March this year
A central London council is fighting off an invasion of hundreds of 1.6m tall broadband cabinets being erected on residential streets across London this summer. The aim is to provide 2.6 million homes with faster broadband by next year 2012.

Westminster council has been able to turn down three quarters of BT’s applications, but other councils do not have the same powers. If you don’t live in a conservation area, BT can put them up where it likes.

Between July and September, the council threw out 41 applications and agreed to just 15. An application in Grove End Road, St John’s Wood, was deemed “unacceptable” on the grounds it would harm trees in a residents’ garden and detract from the “character and appearance” of the area.

However BT Openreach – which is in the throes of a national programme of broadband improvements - only requires planning permission in conservation areas. On this basis, Westminster was powerless to object to around 20 more cabinets.

The influx of boxes is being replicated around London and Lindsay Cuthill, a director of Savills estate agents, said house prices could be affected.

“There is already a lot of unnecessary street furniture about and I am sure people would find it a bit of a put off to have one right outside a house. It probably does have an implication on price but it might only be one or two per cent.”

In March Terry Worby, a marketing manager, had a cabinet installed outside her house in the village of Bearsted, near Maidstone, Kent – without any warning. “I was incandescent with rage,” said Mrs Worby. “I know we have got to be pragmatic, and I use broadband myself, but it just looks so awful.”

Government minister Paul Burstow accused BT of “outrageous behaviour” after it installed another cabinet outside the home of an elderly constituent in Sutton, blocking the view from her front window.

Some 52,000 of the cabinets are being installed across the UK, in an effort to provide 2.6 million homes with faster broadband by 2012, but a spokeswoman for BT could not confirm how many are destined for London.

“Westminster Council recently told us that they welcome the upgrade of broadband services in the area and that our plans have been met with broad approval,” she said. “We will continue to work closely with Westminster Council to locate these cabinets as sensitively as possible.”

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