The planning committee held at Swindon Civic Offices on 9 February voted to refuse five 4G masts for prior approval, dealing a blow to Swindon Borough Council’s overall plans to bring superfast wireless broadband coverage to the borough.
The council have a partnership with UKB Networks to bring a 4G LTE network to the town, a deal worth £2m.
Rural residents are benefiting from the increase in coverage, but in North Swindon people are adamant the service is nullifying interest from other companies such as Virgin and their fibre broadband options, and were making their grievances known at the Planning Committee meeting.
Planning officers for Swindon Borough Council recommended that masts in Aiken Road, Taw Hill, Cassini Drive, Oakhurst and Redhouse Way be given prior approval, but recommended that the same type of masts be rejected at Eastbury Way, Redhouse and Polonez Court, Haydon End.
The meeting opened with a presentation from Conservative Councillor Mary Martin, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Customer and Digital Services, where she outlined the benefits of what UKB Networks were offering the town, a presentation which was met with outcries from the community groups present and prompted a counter-speech by Conservative Priory Vale Councillor Toby Elliott.
A statement was read out during the meeting from Virgin Media stating their intention to roll out their fibre product to the affected areas in North Swindon, but the company would not do so whilst the council were backing the UKB Networks scheme.
Haydon Wick Parish Councillor Damon Bower also told the committee that he had been in talks with BT Openreach regarding a trial in Oakhurst of the latest Fibre To The Premises technology. Swindon Link contacted BT Openreach but they did not wish to comment at this stage.
Before each mast was voted upon, a statement was read out by Cllr Vera Tomlinson on behalf of North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, who was unable to attend, which explained his opposition to the 4G scheme in its entirety. You can read Justin’s full statement here.
Each mast was debated at length by all parties in the Council Chamber, and repeatedly the committee was informed that the opposition to the 4G masts and UKB Networks scheme was absolute, stating that the masts go against several elements of Swindon Borough Council’s Local Plan.
Parish and ward councillors were in attendance from the proposed areas to speak out against the masts, even though this meant the ward councillors would be speaking out against their own administration.
The placement of the masts was consistently challenged, with points along Thamesdown Drive being suggested as an alternative option by the anti-4G members, with Cllr Elliott stating that UKB Networks ‘had not properly considered Thamesdown Drive with a six mast plan’. The UKB Networks representative Graham Currier, who attended the meeting to offer technical advice to the committee, contested this.
Harriet Maltby, a Priory Vale resident and member of the anti-4G community group spoke during the meeting and said afterwards: “This is a significant win for the community, we are hoping that UKB Networks now go back and reconsider not only their placement of these masts, but their offering to the community in general. This evening, common sense prevailed.”
Cllr Toby Elliott said: “As I repeatedly stated in the meeting, tonight was about the masts, not the 4G scheme in general. To that end, these five proposed locations were clearly inappropriate, and I am glad the planning committee listened to the local people.
“My door is always open to UKB Networks should they want to discuss other options.”
Reflecting on the planning committee decision, Cllr Martin said: “I am personally disappointed that the committee did not go with the officers recommendations to give prior approval permission to at least two of the masts. UKB Networks will now have to go away and consider alternative sites.
“With the mixture of speakers, we were always going to get leakage of personal views into the committee meeting, regarding the 4G scheme.”
UKB Networks have issued the following statement:
“We are disappointed that the planning committee feels the way it does about the provision of superfast broadband in North Swindon. We are pleased that the rest of the borough is more receptive to superfast broadband and we are really encouraged by the numerous messages of support we have had over the past few days. We intend to push ahead as quickly as possible to bring superfast broadband to the 13,000 homes in the scheme outside North Swindon.
“We remain committed to finding a mutually acceptable solution to providing superfast broadband in North Swindon and will be having further engagements with the ward councillors and residents in the coming days and weeks to find an amicable solution to this issue ”
UPDATE: Cllr Toby Elliott has contacted Swindon Link on Twitter in response to UKB Networks statement: