The View from the Ramp – Planning

(Start: 9th August, 2020)
(End: 8th September, 2020)

It’s another day: and another dollar.

And another article: one started on a warm Sunday night in August.

In the background? Is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

Somewhere in England, by Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts.

Many years ago, I worked at the Essex Arms, on Warley Hill: back when it had live music in the back bar.

Wilko Johnson*, Stray, Doghouse, the Undertakers, the Motel Kings, Nicky Moore’s Blues Corporation … 

Essex’s pub rock circuit had some good bands playing, back then.

The highlight for me?

Was the only band that caused a pitch invasion at the Essex Arms: Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, in all their politically incorrect glory.

If you’ve missed them, missed the finest rock band on the circuit, possibly the finest live bands still upright and certainly one of the best guitarists …

You’ve missed the most exciting gig you’ll ever see.

That’s not what I wanted to write about in this post.

In the light of the lockdown, I wanted highlight decisions made by Brentwood Council’s Planning Committee.

And by my mobile provider.

As far as I can tell, a lot of people from Rollason Way to Hartswood Avenue, now have no mobile phone signal.

And it seems to come down — in part — to decisions made by Brentwood Council’s Planning Committee.

First things first?

I wanted to give you an update.


An Update

My first post for Phoenix FM: was about digital poverty.

In it, I explained how many of us found it hard to get online: and how help was hard to find.

I emailed various groups, to see what they were offering: the Department of Education, the Post office, and several phone and Internet Service Providers.

I had various levels of response: but none from Sky, Virgin or the Department of Education.

Sky and Virgin still haven’t bothered.

However, I have had a response from the DoE.

Their spokesperson said:

“It may be helpful if I explain that laptops and tablets will be provided for disadvantaged families, children and young adults who do not currently have access to them through another source, such as their school. Digital devices can be requested for:

  • care leavers.
  • children and young people aged 0 to 19, or young children’s families, with a social worker.
  • disadvantaged year 10 pupils.

Furthermore, internet access will be provided through 4G wireless routers for any of the following people who do not currently have it:

  • care leavers.
  • secondary school pupils with a social worker.
  • disadvantaged year 10 pupils.

The Department also told me that further information was available, here:

And that a helpline was available.

This one: 0800 046 8687.

With Lockdown easing, and children now back at school?

I’m not sure how much of that is still relevant.

But, for those of us with school age children?

I believe the phone number may be worth using.


Some History

That’s the update out of the way.

What I wanted to talk about was planning.

I know of some planning decisions that have happened in the Warley Hill area, and wanted to tell you about them.

But felt I should tell you about my street, first.

Just in case you didn’t know, I live in Rollason Way†: down near Brentwood Station, on the grounds of what used to be the NV Tools factory.

I, and a handful of others, moved into Rollason Way roughly twelve years ago.

When the street literally hadn’t been finished.

Everything beyond what’s now Whitbread Place was walled off.

The traffic? Included diggers, flatbed trucks, cherry pickers and — occasionally — what gets called honey wagons: the vans that empty portaloos.

That end of Rollason Way got built whilst this end watched: and complained about the noise.

It got finished after about five years.

The problems?

Got started a lot earlier.

You see, Brentwood Planning Committee had approved the original designs for Rollason Way. 

With significantly less parking than needed.

I counted the number of parking bays available to my block.

We had — and still have — eight bays … for a block with twelve flats.

Granted, not everyone in my building drives: I don’t, for example.

As time’s gone on, however, families have grown.

Most have two drivers: either both parents or a parent and older child with cars.

Eight spaces aren’t enough.

It seemed obvious, then and now, that a block of twelve flats should have twelve parking spaces.

However, my end of Rollason Way has three quarters of a parking space per flat.

Now, granted: as and when newer blocks were added, those blocks had better parking facilities. Had one bay per flat.

The newer blocks, at the bottom end of the street?

All have one bay per flat, and are all privately owned.

Here at my end, the end that’s all social housing?

Three quarters of a parking space … and a lot of cars parked on the street.

But, on the whole, Rollason Way has less parking bays than it needs.

You might think that that can be lived with.

You might.

I don’t.

In the last piece I wrote for Phoenix, I mentioned the fact I can see the traffic, outside my window.

I’m on the ground floor, I should add: and get to see every van, car and taxi heading down my street.

The lack of parking spaces means cars park on street: which means traffic goes slowly, and does lots of backing up, to let oncoming traffic through.

It’s seriously congested.

It’s been congested for a long time.

So congested that I’ve always felt that fire engines would have a tough time getting to a fire at the bottom of my street in an emergency.

Something that hasn’t changed since I was contacted by an anonymous member of Essex Fire Service about it, in 2010.

We haven’t, yet, had an issue with it.


I’m thankful for that.

But very aware how easy it is to start a fire: and see it kill someone, because a fire engine couldn’t get down my street in time … 

And very aware that Brentwood Council’s planning committee are partly responsible for that.


The Phone.

Now … 

Here’s where I get angry.

Towards the last week of June, my mobile phone’s signal vanished.

I had nothing indoors, not much outside, and a perfect signal halfway up Kings Road.

I double checked to make sure my credit had been topped up, the battery had been charged, the usual stuff you’re supposed to do.

And reported it to the local O2 shop.

And to the O2 website

According to them, it was a temporary problem.

With a local phone mast.

It took me a week to realise ‘temporary’ wasn’t an adequate description.

And that the phone mast that causing issues? Was very local.

Then I bumped into my neighbour, Alan: the chap who I mentioned in my first Phoenix post.

He was having problems: and on Virgin, a different provider.

This was looking a touch more serious than I thought.

I got talking to more of my neighbours, as I saw them.

None had a mobile signal.


O2 were telling me the problem would be solved ‘within the next few days.’

It didn’t: the signal was down, whatever the website was actually saying.

I had an idea it wouldn’t be, either: as I’d noticed something missing.

Around the corner from where I live, is what’s now the local Premier Inn: the former home — if you watch The Apprentice — of Lord Alan Sugar’s Amstrad.

Just opposite that hotel? Is what used to be called Ewing House: 130, Kings Road, in other words.

On top of that, for the past twelve years?

Had been the mobile phone masts for the area.

Those masts had been removed …

And 130 Kings Road covered in scaffolding and plastic.

There was work being done.

So? Partly out of curiosity, but mostly so I could tell O2 exactly where the blessed mast was supposed to be.

I Googled 130.

And found this planning application.


The mast had been removed: so the building could be turned into more flats.

And have more flats on top.

I did what I think anyone else would do.

I went to the local press.


The Papers.

Or, to be more precise?

I dropped an email to Piers Meyler: an old contact from the days I wrote quizzes tor the Brentwood Gazette.

Piers, bless him, phoned my mobile, first.

Then — as what I’d said about the signal in the area sunk in — phoned me on my landline, got my story, and set to work.

He managed to check with other people in the area: and publish the story online, on 31st July.

With the speed of the utter professional that he is‡.

Anyone on Three, Virgin, Vodaphone, EE, O2, Tescos … ? Was having the same issue.

No signal: with many in area having no landline to fall back on.

It seems there was a reason for the mess.

Going by Piers’ article, the work on 130 had been applied for back in 2018: Brentwood Council had refused that.

Their decision got overturned by the Planning Inspectorate: who made no provisions about replacement phone masts.

What’s more?

In April of this year, planning permission was sought for extra masts: on the side of Masefield Court flats, and on the multi-storey carpark on Coptfold Road.

Those were turned down.

According to the planning committee?

Because of the “visual impact on residents.”

I have to ask, how much ‘visual impact’ could a set of phone masts have … on the roofs of a block of flats, and a multi-storey carpark?

What makes Brentwood Council’s decision laughable?

Is that, because the mast at 130, Kings Road has been taken down, the phone companies involved have invoked various emergency powers: to put up temporary masts.

One at Masefield Court, another at Pastoral Way — as that part of town is also affected — and one at the green space at the back of the Bay Tree Centre in Brentwood High Street.

Right next to the Coptfold Road Carpark.

The Planning Committee could have saved their constituents a lot of trouble: and approved those masts, in April.

To paraphrase John Lydon?

“Ever get the feeling we’ve been cheated?”


In Conclusion.

So … 

What am I thinking, I hear you ask?

I’m angry at O2, and Brentwood Council’s Planning Committee.

I’m annoyed at O2.

It took O2 a month to realise the problem with the signal was the mast: after I, and every other O2 customer in the area, repeatedly told them about it.

Their website was also a mess.

The best I could say, there, was that the website was inaccurate, whenever it updated.

I will give O2 credit.

They’ve given me £75 cash, and £10 airtime, as ‘goodwill gestures.’ That money has been used to pay the landline bill I’ve run up, in the duration.

O2’s also made sure their website is accurate.

It currently tells us we’ll have further updates on 5th October.

I can only hope O2, and the other providers, get the emergency masts up, quickly.

The other guilty party?

Is Brentwood Council’s Planning Committee: you can find the list of current members, here.

I know that the plans being overturned on appeal wasn’t entirely the committee’s fault.

But they would have known it had been passed to the Inspectorate.

They would have known.

And should have known their decision could be over turned.

The Committee must surely have known how many of their constituents rely on mobile phones, when they refused permission for extra phone masts in April.

Should have known how many of us rely on mobile phones for phone and ’Net access.

We now have a situation where the Committee’s actions have left many in the area unable to communicate.

I know one of my ward councillors is up for re-election in 2021: and is on the Planning Committee. I know they’ve done fantastic work in the past.

I will not be voting for them in 2021.

They and the rest of the Committee?

Dropped the ball on this^.

*        Yes, that Wilko Johnson. Cancer survivor, founder member of Dr Feelgood and the man who inspired a thousand and one rhythm guitarists. His work with the Feelgoods is possibly the reason the Punk movement existed. Everyone heard Roxette, me included, and thought “I can do that.” Not that I ever did … but …

†        Rollason Way is named after the late sports journalist, Helen Rollason. The blocks of flats are named after various sportsmen and women. Damon House is named after Damon Hill, for example. Adlington House is named after swimmer, Rebecca Adlington.

‡        Sir Terry Pratchett describes some characters in his Watch series of Discworld novels as street monsters. It sounds less flattering than it is. It’s Pratchett’s term for the watchmen who are professional, knowledgable and fast … but who seem rougher than they are. That’s Piers as a journalist, all over. Occasionally rough around the edges: but professional, knowledgeable … and able to get a well written piece to press, with minutes to spare. I envy his speed. And his punctuation.

^        I know for a fact someone will look at this piece, and leave the phrase ‘TL; DR.’ JUST for them … ? TL; DR: Brentwood Council refused to put up more phones masts in April. The local phone mast went down in June. Rollason Way has no signal ’til October. I’m annoyed.

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