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Westminster at war with ‘whack-a-mole’ phone boxes

Fri, 07/09/2018

Westminster at war with ‘whack-a-mole’ phone boxes

·         Council receive applications for 300 new phone boxes in two years

·         One phone box proposed every 15m along Edgware Road

·         Judicial review as officers exasperated by endless legal battle caused by ‘arcane’ planning rules  

Westminster City Council has again attacked plans to install hundreds of new phone boxes across the city.

Today planning chief, Richard Beddoe, has called on Government for greater powers to reject new kiosks after the council received applications for 99 new phone installations from BT.

The council is now challenging a recent appeal decision through a  judicial review  and is questioning the need for pay phones.

Over the last two years Westminster council has already rejected 170 applications for new telephone kiosks which the authority believes serve little purpose beyond creating advertising space in high profile locations like Oxford Street, Victoria Street, Edgware Road and Baker Street.  If all of the applications had been approved there would be one phone box every 15 metres along Edgware Road. 

While some applications involve the removal of existing kiosks, the City Council does not wish to see new ones installed in their place.

However, historic planning rules treat phone boxes as ‘permitted development’ and so planning permission is not required, meaning the council’s grounds for refusing an application are reduced.  In some cases refusal has been overturned at appeal.

The applications, which have come from a number of companies, including Maximus Ltd, BT, New World Payphone and Euro Payphone Ltd, are time consuming and costly to process.  Many of these telecommunications firms are now owned by outdoor advertising companies.

Westminster already has over 1,000 phone boxes and last year the council conducted a survey of the existing phone boxes around Oxford Street and Marble Arch, finding many neglected, out of service and/or disused.

The council has now received applications from BT for a further 99 new structures incorporating advertising screens as well as telecommuniactions equipment. Each structure would create two 1210 mm x 690 mm advertising hoardings.

The council believes that these proposals offer very little benefit to the public, particularly as many of the proposed telephone boxes don’t even offer wi-fi or internet connectivity.  Despite claims these phone boxes are targeted at low income families, the minimum charge for a call in some kiosks is £1 cash or £2 via payment card.  The council feels the prime purpose of the installations is to provide large advertisements in the street.

The authority has previously called for government and Ofcom help to change rules and enable the council to require the removal of underused or redundant boxes and greater powers to resist new ones.

So far, these efforts have been fruitless and the council remains locked in legal battles with the telecoms companies.

Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Planning and Public Realm, Richard Beddoe said: “Arcane planning rules have left the council playing a never ending game of whack-a-mole with the phone boxes popping up across the city.

“We have had some success refusing and removing these monstrosities but telecoms companies can see the opportunity to make a quick buck and the applications keep pouring in. These aren’t the popular, historic red boxes we all love but ugly oversized advertising structures posing as telephone boxes cluttering our iconic streets.

 “We need government and Ofcom to act urgently and prevent councils from facing a constant stream of expensive, lengthy planning battles. “ 

Last updated: 26 September 2018