'Ugly' cabinet dispute thwarts BT in Kensington and Chelsea

image captionBT wanted to fit 108 street cabinets across the Kensington and Chelsea area

BT has halted its plans to roll-out high-speed broadband to one of the country's wealthiest areas following a dispute over street cabinets.

Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council blocked 96 out of 108 planned sites for new cabinets, saying they would ruin "our historic streetscape".

BT said residents should not "have to put up with historic broadband speeds".

Virgin Media, BT's largest rival, operates its high-speed service in the area.

A spokesman for BT said the move was "strangling competition".

"Other councils, including those of neighbouring boroughs, have shown a greater eagerness to enjoy the benefits of fibre broadband," the company said.

"We will therefore re-focus our engineers' efforts in other areas where planning authorities have taken a positive approach and are keen to ensure their residents and businesses can benefit from this technology."

Permission denied

The new cabinets are 1.6m tall and 1.2m wide and usually green in colour.

The existing cabinets, which are currently in operation across the borough, are 1.15m high and 1.37m wide.

The bigger cabinets have been approved in 31 of London's 33 boroughs.

However, Kensington and Chelsea has criticised BT for what it says is the firm's lack of flexibility over how the cabinets are installed in the area.

"It would not compromise on the number, or on the design," the council said.

"It would not use sites that already had unused BT equipment and it would not consider putting the equipment underground, or any other method."

BT said placing equipment underground increased its susceptibility to flooding. Smaller cabinets, it added, would mean a decreased capacity on the service.

'Serious rethink'

London First, a group which promotes the needs of businesses in the capital, said the council needed to "up their game".

"London business needs world-class communications infrastructure, and delaying broadband rollout in Kensington and Chelsea is bad news for local businesses and residents," said Baroness Jo Valentine, the group's chief executive.

But Michael Bach, chairman of the planning committee of the Kensington Society, told the BBC he believed many residents and businesses backed the council's stance.

"It's a question of their size, where they're located and whereabouts in the street.

"They need to have a really serious rethink about how they can design something that will fit in better."

Mr Bach said he was sceptical over BT's concern for businesses in the area.

"If they're that concerned they can find a way to compromise," he said.

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