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Mobile phone and broadband signals discussed at major Weald meeting

Planning laws and a lack of customers are the main issues affecting phone signal in rural Kent.

That was the message coming from last night’s meeting between Weald residents, politicians and phone providers to discuss ongoing problems with coverage in the area.

The forum, chaired by MP for Maidstone and the Weald Helen Grant and attended by the minister responsible for mobile networks, Ed Vaizey, and representatives from the four major phone providers, was held at the High Weald Academy in Cranbrook.

Helen Grant chaired the meeting, which included phone mast representatives and minister Ed Vaizey
Helen Grant chaired the meeting, which included phone mast representatives and minister Ed Vaizey

Speaking after the meeting Mr Vaizey said: “It was good to hear what people’s concerns are and why they think things are not going right.”

He added that while some good ideas were put forward it also provided a chance to dispel some myths.

He said: “You’ve got to remember that phone providers are private companies and so will build masts where they have most users.

“My ambition is that in five years' time everyone will have the best mobile phone and broadband coverage that they can get.”

The meeting was convened after a survey commissioned by Mrs Grant saw 70% of the 600 respondents reporting serious issues with network coverage in the Weald.

Video: Reporter Graham Stothard speaks to phone users and phone representatives at the meeting

While many attendees at the meeting appeared optimistic about progress and seemed happy that their concerns were being dealt with, there remained a sense of frustration that specific details were not provided.

Representatives from O2, EE, Vodafone and Three stayed for 15 minutes after the meeting to speak to people about their concerns.

Andy Conway, an engineer for O2, said: “There are a number of issues that are leading to the current problems in the Weald.

Helen Grant has spoken out against the decision
Helen Grant has spoken out against the decision

“The biggest problem is constraints around planning law, and we’re working with government to get them relaxed. Current regulations mean it can be a long time between proposing a mast and getting it on air.”

He added: “We are a third of the way through network modernisation. It will take another couple of years before they are completed and we should have the right amount of infrastructure in place by 2017.”

Mrs Grant said she was delighted with a very candid and open evening, adding; “In the 21st century we have to have the right infrastructure in rural areas as well as towns and cities.

"I expect following on from this we will have another meeting at some point.”

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