Hundreds of Brentwood residents have been left struggling without a decent or even any phone signal after a mobile phone mast was taken down.
Problems started about six weeks ago when developers removed a mast on the top of 130 Kings Road that was shared by several operators, including EE, O2, Vodafone and Three, without a replacement being installed.
It has left mobile phone customers with virtually no signal in the area since.
As a result emergency powers are being activated by the phone companies to install masts on public land.
One mast is being planned for the green behind the Baytree Centre, another in Pastoral Way and another on the side of Masefield Court in Victoria Road.
Applications for a permanent mast on the multi-story car park in Coptfold Road and on the side of Masefield Court were both turned down by Brentwood Borough Council in April due to the design and visual impact on residents.
Councillor Gareth Barrett, leader of the Labour group on the council, said there should have been more forethought when planning for a two-storey roof extension on 130 Kings Road, known as Ewing House, was it was being discussed three years ago.
The plan, to add an extra 10 flats, was eventually refused by the council in 2018, but the planning Inspectorate gave permission on appeal, albeit without condition over any replacement mast.
Cllr Barrett said: “The lack of forethought and planning on the impact of the development of Ewing House on the availability and quality of a mobile signal to residents of the town centre is a potential disaster.
“Not only is any loss disruptive, with Covid-19 it is essential for business, social contact and keeping abreast of developments.
“However, it is certainly a new excuse for any proposal for temporary masts that could take up public land and green spaces for years.
“The residents of the town centre should not be punished for this lack of appropriate proposals and planning by the loss of their public space.”
Among the residents who have been affected is O2 customer Paul Downie who lives in Rollason Way. He has been told that O2 signal should return fully in October.
In the meantime he can barely get reception and when he does it is very poor and intermittent.
Another resident who lives in Warley and did not want to be named, said: “I desperately need to telephone the doctor and some other offices today but I still cannot do this.
“With the current situation regarding coronavirus this is totally ridiculous. I will have to drive in my car to find somewhere I can get a signal.”
Councillor Mark Haigh, who lives close to the mast, said: “My EE signal has been dreadful for many weeks. It is affecting me personally. Something has to be done.”
Cllr Olivia Saunders, chairman of the borough council’s planning committee, confirmed the temporary masts for Vodafone and O2 will go on the green near the multi-storey and the other in Pastoral Way. She said the temporary order will stay for 18 months.
EE and Three will put emergency masts on Masefield Court.
She said she had not been told a date for the emergency mast to start operating, adding: “I get the frustration – it has affected me in the past. I get it fully when the signal is not there when you expect it.”