Campaigners' outrage over council's £70,000 payout to phone firm
A PHONE company was paid £70,000 of taxpayers' money to help it install a phone mast in Derby, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
The city council defended its decision to give the cash to Everything Everywhere, or EE, saying it avoided greater cost in the long term.
But campaigners say the spending was "outrageous", especially as EE did not have full planning permission for the new site.
Orange, which became EE after merging with T-Mobile UK, applied to put up the 20-metre mast on a grass verge in Elvaston Lane, Alvaston, in March last year, under "emergency planning rules".
This allowed it to stay for six months without formal planning consent.
The council said the use of these powers was "effectively" valid as the equipment was intended to replace a mast on Yarmouth House, which was scheduled to be demolished.
But when EE tried to extend the mast's stay to three years, the city council rejected its application. The firm appealed against this but a planning inspector upheld the decision.
EE could still appeal to the High Court and in the meantime no order has been made for it to be taken down.
The decision to allow the emergency permission is disputed by people living in the area, who describe the mast as an eyesore.
And one of those, David Gale, has now fuelled the controversy still further after making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which found the council had spent £70,000 "relating to the costs of erecting the new mast".
Mr Gale, a member of campaign group Roam (Remove Orange's Alvaston Mast), said: "People in Alvaston question the legal basis under which the emergency planning was granted. I think it's outrageous the council spent £70,000 on a mast that didn't have planning permission."
Councillor Baggy Shanker, cabinet member for housing and advice, said the Communications Act effectively gave EE the right to keep the mast at Yarmouth House because "of its strategic positioning and the loss of network coverage should it be removed".
He said: "While there were possible work-arounds, there were no guarantees that a suitable permanent alternative would be found, and time was of the essence.
"The payment of the sum of £70,000 was therefore part of a series of commercial negotiations with EE to secure the removal of the mast from its original location by agreement, to avoid the need to trigger protracted and costly processes and legal proceedings that ultimately would have exceeded, in value, the lump sum paid.
"The sum paid was itself a negotiated figure that was significantly less than the starting figure proposed at the start of the negotiated process."
He said the demolition of Yarmouth House had allowed for a major housing development in Alvaston.