News | Virgin Media anger Fury over cable work chaos

FULL details have been emerging of the complaints that led to contract work by Virgin Media being halted across the area.

The complaints were passed to Downs Mail ahead of a decision by Kent County Council to stop Virgin Media’s massive “Project Lightning” contract to install broadband cables beneath pavements in Bearsted, Grove Green and Thurnham. The complaints reveal a catalogue

of catastrophes, including severed phone and water supplies and singed hedges, aswell as safety con- cerns about working practices, signs, open street works, poor finishing, and potential hazards to walkers and motorists. Thisweek, the county council con-

firmed itwas “extremely dissatisfied with the method of operation in Bearsted”. The spokesman said: “No work will be permitted to restart in the

area until senior management are confident that all identified im- provements and actions are in place. “We will be working very closely

with Virgin Media, and if all correc- tive actions are in place, work will be able to restart before the end of the school holidays, to keep further dis- ruption to a minimum.” He added: “Nationally, Virgin

Media are working to an operational improvement plan agreed with the JointAuthorities Group in July 2017; progress against this plan is regu- larly monitored, measured and re- viewed.” Downs Mail received a flood of complaints from residents in roads includingMynnCrescent,Aviemore Gardens, BirlingAvenue, The Land- way, and at Grove Green.

Cllr John Horne with the singed hedge in Mynn Crescent Acatalogue of complaints

IN Aviemore Gardens, contractors dug through BT Openreach lines, leaving all 32 houses without a ‘phone or broadband services. Residents complained to Virgin Media, pointing out the effect on home-workers and the elderly with lifeline alarms. But resident Geoffrey Taylor said: “Five days later, there had been no response, so I emailed Virgin Media’s CEO Tom Mock- ridge. “Virgin Media finally responded,

saying it would not compensate anyone inconvenienced by the ac- tions of its contractors and individu- als should pursue the matter with their own service provider. “So, it appears Virgin Media can

excavate pavement, leaving a trail of damage and without accepting the moral responsibility for ensuring that any affected people are recon- nected and compensated. It would also appear that the only hope of changing theVirgin Media working practices, is if sufficient individuals complain or one of the local author- ities intervenes to hold them to ac- count.” In Birling Road, homeowner and Thurnham parish councillor John Horne was left without his phone line after contractors cut through it onAugust 2. Hewas stillwaiting to be reconnected as we went to press onAugust 23. Mr Horne says his basic human

rights have been infringed. He said: “Theway in which the street works have been conducted has resulted in an interference with Article 8 – Con- vention for the protection ofHuman Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – namely; an interference with the right of respect for private and fam-

8 The mess left by cable works in the Landway, Bearsted

ily life and home.” Hesays affected residents must be reimbursed and, the affected foot- ways and roads totally refurbished under KCC supervision. David Hall, a former highway manager, also wrote to KCC and Virgin’s chief executive Tom Mock- eridge to complain about the chaos caused in Fremlins Road, Bearsted. He said: “We were notified of the

work to layVirgin Media cables and made appropriate arrangements with access etc, but it became clear at an early stage that the reinstatement work on the highway and footway was sub-standard. We were told a sub-standard batch of tarmacadam was the problem, which would be re-instated. “The reinstatement workwas un- dertaken on Saturday, May 13 with no notification to residents, causing absolute chaos in a small cul-de-sac. When questioned, the workmen were not rude, but shrugged and said theywere carrying out orders.” HetoldMrMockeridge: “This has

givenVirgin Media a very poor rep- utation in Bearsted and many peo- ple will not buy your service based

Maidstone East September 2017

upon the appalling work they have witnessed.” He says Kent County Council, as

the highways authority, should have taken a more proactive approach in monitoring the work and materials used and responded quicker to com- plaints.

Graham Wyles, of Henley Fields,

Grove Green, said: “TheAugust re- port in theDownsMail outlining the concerns of Thurnham Council about the work by Virgin Media in Bearsted exactly echoed our experi- ences in Grove Green: disruption; surface finish to the trench deterio- rating and not level with the adjoin- ing pavement.” Richard Smith, vice chairman of Thurnham Parish Council, said: “The parish council raised serious concerns over the standard of work by Virgin’s contractors because of the effect it was having on the resi- dents of Thurnham and Bearsted. “Itwas reassuring thatKCCeven-

tually responded to our concerns and has taken action. It demon- strates that our small local voice can sometimes be effective.”

No plans to compensate, says Virgin

A VIRGIN Media spokesper- son apologised for inconven- ience to residents, adding that the company endeavoured to minimise disruption. She said: “After a productive meeting with Kent County Council, we have made signif- icant progress and agreed to make improvements in our network expansion plans in Bearsted. “As part of our agreement

with the council,Virgin Media now has a dedicated taskforce to implement improved com- munications, procedures and supervision of the build. “To reiterate, we take mat-

ters like this extremely seri- ously and have already taken steps to ensure that once the work restarts, it is carried out with the highest standards of professionalism.” Regarding compensation,

the spokesman said: “We ad- vise the residents in Bearsted who have been without a tele- phone line to speak to their provider to discuss their loss of service. In these cases, we will not be offering compensation. “We ask those residents

whose hedges have been dam- aged to contact our Network Expansion Helpdesk on 0870 888 3116 or to email Expan- and we’ll look into their com- plaint as quickly as we can.”

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