A financial trading firm’s plan to make millions by building a mast higher than the Shard in rural Kent has suffered a setback after its proposals were challenged by Dover council.
Vigilant Global is one of two companies hoping to build a communications mast designed to boost profits by shaving milliseconds off the time it takes to beam information to European markets.
But the council questioned the tactics used by the firm in the planning process and cast doubt on whether local people would see the benefits that Vigilant says they will.
In a 20-page document, council officials said Vigilant had provided “only scant detail of the purpose of the mast”, instead choosing to focus on the potential benefits to the local community.
“Of primary concern is the lack of detail of the main function and purpose of the mast,” the council said, adding that the plan “appeared to relate to improvements in the financial field”.
Planning officials also questioned Vigilant’s “interesting” choice of location used to assess the impact the mast would have on views near the medieval town of Sandwich.
Vigilant chose a viewpoint looking out across a boatyard on the river Stour, an angle the council said would make it “difficult to distinguish where the mast would appear in the view” because it would be disguised by dozens of boat masts.
The council said there had been no assessment of the impact that lights attached to the mast, for the purposes of warning low-flying aircraft, would have on the night sky.
Officials raised further concerns about archaeological remains in the area, near the site of the Romans’ first landfall in Britain, saying the effects on these were “not well considered”.
The document also revealed that Vigilant was considering using helicopters to ferry equipment to the proposed site of its mast.
Eric Bellerive, the director of global networks at Vigilant Global, said it was common practice for additional information to be requested on such large planning applications.
“The original archaeological submission was based on a previous application for the same site, which was considered suitable by the council though we are happy to provide additional information,” he said, adding that the company was working with the local community to finalise the benefits.
Vigilant has sought to win over locals by promising that the mast will help boost broadband speeds and mobile phone coverage.
But the council said it was “difficult to establish the proposed benefit that the mast would afford in terms of broadband coverage”.
The council called on Vigilant to provide new evidence to address its concerns, a process that could benefit similar plans for a mast put forward by a rival company, New Line Networks (NLN), which has not got as far as Vigilant in the planning process.
NLN recently filed an objection to Vigilant’s plans in an apparent attempt to slow its rival’s progress, although both companies have said they would consider sharing just one mast.
Both firms say the site, near Richborough in Kent, has a direct line of sight to another mast in Belgium, allowing for microwave signals to be beamed across the Channel in a fraction of a second.
The battle illustrates the lengths to which high-frequency traders are willing to go to secure a couple of milliseconds advantage over rivals.
The focus on speed earned the industry the nickname “flash boys”, after the Michael Lewis book of the same name. It details how a company called Spread Networks dug an 827-mile trench under mountains and across rivers from Chicago to New Jersey – at a cost of $300m.
This article was written by Rob Davies, for theguardian.com on Monday 18th April 2016 17.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010