Photographer: Getty Images

Speed Traders’ ‘Stupid’ Plan for Fast Network Halted in U.K.

  • Dover District Council rejects Vigilant, Jump Trading, KCG
  • Towers would have sped up trading between London and Frankfurt

Local officials in rural England rejected as “incredibly stupid” a proposal by a group of high-speed traders to build radio masts as tall as the Eiffel Tower, dashing plans to open the fastest possible trading route between financial markets in London and Frankfurt.

At a public meeting last night, Dover District Council rejected separate planning applications from Vigilant Global, part of Chicago-based DRW Holdings LLC, and New Line Networks -- a joint venture between Chicago-based Jump Trading LLC and New York-based KCG Holdings Inc.

“In 26 years as a councilor, this is the worst application I have ever seen,” said Bernard Butcher, the vice chairman of the planning committee in his response to Vigilant’s application. “This particular proposal is just unsightly, it’s too incredibly stupid for us to even contemplate.

“There have to be other locations where it will not cause so much havoc and unsightliness,” he told the meeting.

On one side of the council chamber were suited executives from the world of high-speed trading and their planning and public relations advisers. On the other: members of the public opposed to the erection of two 300-meter-plus (980 feet) masts in the nearby countryside. Vigilant and New Line Networks had waited a year for the council to decide whether they could proceed with their plans, which would have shortened trading times between Europe’s two biggest financial centers.

Planning officer Andrew Somerville laid out the case against the masts: they would spoil views from Richborough Roman Fort, one of the area’s main tourist attractions; they presented marginal benefit to the national economy; and Vigilant, at least, had failed to sufficiently assess the potential danger to the local environment.

“We are disappointed by the committee’s decision, but acknowledge the feedback provided by the members of the committee,” said Eric Bellerive, director of Global Network Architecture at Vigilant. “It is our firm belief that this proposal would have solved a real problem for the financial industry, whilst providing significant value to national and local economies. It is important that we now take time to reflect on the feedback provided by the councilors and evaluate if there is a manner in which a future scheme could progress in a mutually beneficial fashion.”

A representative from New Line Networks declined to comment.

After the local official had recommended that the masts be blocked, the 10-member committee of elected councilors took turns criticizing the plans, leaving little doubt as to the eventual verdict. Vigilant’s proposed tower was rejected by nine votes with one abstention. New Line Networks’ tower was unanimously blocked.

Read more: What the locals thought of the trading towers last year

The councilors dismissed arguments made by the speed traders’ experts. Jon Bradburn of Montagu Evans, Vigilant’s planning consultant, and Sean McNamara, the operations director of New Line Networks, were both given three minutes to make their case.

Bradburn pointed out that there is already an industrial works next to Richborough Fort, and that Vigilant has offered to share its mast with other high-frequency traders, eliminating the need for multiple towers. The councilors also heard claims made by a speaker against the Vigilant development.

“The sole use of this mast is to facilitate computerized gambling on stocks and shares,” said Mike Matthews, a retired engineer at the meeting. “There are no benefits from this development either locally or nationally.”

The speed traders have one last card to play. They can appeal to the U.K.’s central government, arguing that the towers have a wider benefit to the British economy. Ultimately, a minister could overrule Dover District Council, allowing the project to go ahead, said Iain Gilbey, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons who specializes in infrastructure planning.

“It’s a bit of a wait and see,” Gilbey said.

For a QuickTake explainer on speed trading, click here

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