The Battle for East Kent 

30 May 2024

ANTHONY HAYWARD finds there is discontent among consortia waiting for the IBA to advertise the East Kent franchise — after finally getting permission for a medium-wave transmitter site



Cover of Radio magazine

From Radio magazine for December 1982

ONE of the groups intending to apply for the East Kent ILR franchise has accused the IBA of failing to meet its “moral commitment” to advertise it.

The area was one of those announced by Home Secretary William Whitelaw [the Home Office was responsible for broadcasting between 1974 and 1992 – Ed] three years ago in his list of planned radio contracts.

Last month, East Kent and Barnsley were still the only two not to have been awarded or advertised.

Mr Whitelaw last year asked for the Barnsley contract to be reconsidered as part of an ILR station for the whole of South Yorkshire. The IBA planned to advertise East Kent in time for the winning applicant to start broadcasting sometime next year.

But it then had problems obtaining a site for a medium-wave transmitter. Two successive planning applications were rejected after strong protests from people in the two villages chosen.

Then, last September, the IBA received permission to build a transmitter in Littlebourne, near Canterbury.

Radio 2 broadcaster Desmond Carrington, who is chairman of Radio Invicta, one of the bidders, told RADIO magazine: “The whole thing is absolutely ludicrous. I don’t believe the will was ever really there.

“The IBA intended to advertise it in 1981. In its 1981-82 handbook, East Kent was included in the list of 44 areas for which contracts would have been advertised or already awarded before the end of 1981. But it’s the only one for which a map of the coverage area isn’t included.

“At the last moment, they put in a planning application for a medium-wave transmitter at Wingham, near Canterbury, and they were firmly rejected by the local people. It was to be in sight of the church.”




“They were told by the local council that it would go through. When it didn’t, they went to Wickhambreaux, another village near Canterbury. They dealt with it extremely badly and lost again. Had the IBA dealt with the plans better in a public relations sense, they probably would have got one of them.

“They spent six months of this year very carefully preparing the ground, investigating the possibility of purchasing and putting in a third planning application. Now it’s been granted, the IBA say they don’t know when they can go ahead with it. In my view, they have a moral commitment to advertise East Kent. They are obviously very embarrassed about it.”

The IBA now has less money available for local radio expansion and Radio Invicta has particular problems because it has bought offices in Canterbury. It paid a ten per cent deposit last year and completed the deal last January.

“The IBA didn’t tell us they didn’t have a transmitter site in January,” said Carrington. “We had to complete for the building or lose £8,000 [£29,500 in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed], so we decided to go ahead and buy the building. This was of our own choosing, but it’s a problem for us because it’s sitting there empty.

“Also, two members of our consortium left to join groups bidding for the Maidstone/Medway contract because it was suddenly advertised in advance of East Kent. The earliest a station can get on the air now is likely to be 1985.”

Christopher Jackson, Euro-MP for East Kent and a director of Radio Invicta, recently wrote to the IBA’s Chairman, Lord Thomson.

In his reply, the IBA Chairman explained that there had been delays while arrangements for a larger transmission area were put to the Home Secretary and because of the planning application refusals.

“The reason for these delays,” he wrote, “was simply that quite a large area was sought, the proximity of the Continent made for very sensitive frequency decisions and, for understandable but regrettable reasons, permission for the IBA to occupy the best heights was refused.

“The two delays — neither of them the fault of the IBA — have inevitably meant that other stations have taken the places which, because of local opposition to providing necessary planning consents, East Kent could not occupy. As a result, the possibility of proceeding with this station falls in a much more difficult time.

“There is no question that East Kent is high on the Authority’s list. But we are in the depths of a recession and the speed of advance has to be governed by the financial constraints.

“While all of us will be disappointed if it is not possible to advertise East Kent during the coming year, it must be stated plainly that the reasons for past difficulty are matters outside our control.”

The IBA board discussed the problems last month but made no public statement. Although Radio Invicta has been the only applicant to formally complain, other bidders are clearly unhappy — but less vociferous — about the delay.

Two consortia intending to apply for the East Kent contract also decided to bid for the Maidstone/Medway franchise. The Rev John Hawthorne of Channel Sound — called Double M Sounds in its other application — said: “We intended to go for both contracts anyway, but we’re disappointed that this one has dragged on for so long.

“I think the IBA bashed their heads against a brick wall with regard to the conservationists and weren’t aware of the strength of the opposition.”

Pilgrim Sound’s Chairman, Sir John Grugeon, confirmed that his group was still planning to apply for the franchise, having also failed to get the Maidstone/Medway contract. He added: “It was unfortunate that it took so long for the planning permission to be given.”


Map of the east Kent area

East Kent

John Brench, Chairman of another bidder, East Kent Community Radio, said: “I don’t think we can completely blame the IBA. In the first instance, it’s the minority group of local people who delayed the planning permission.

“And, of course, the IBA are coming to a situation where money isn’t as liquid as it was. As they quite rightly say, they can set up three other stations for the cost of one in our area.

“But, in fairness to the consortia, the IBA should make a statement. If they are going to shelve it for a couple of years, we ask them to please let us know.”

Network East Kent’s Chairman, George Stewart, described the IBA as “a competent body” and did not think it was responsible for the delay. Richard Sturt, Chairman of Gateway Sound, also said he did not blame the IBA and appreciated that it had difficulties.

The IBA still has to get planning permission for two VHF transmitter sites but does not foresee any problems.


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