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Local UK Councils Rail Against Surge in Trojan Telephone Boxes

Monday, January 29th, 2018 (1:42 pm) - Score 2,712

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils across England and Wales, has called on the central UK government to tackle the growing tide of “trojan telephone boxes” (e.g. boxes installed almost solely for advertising) by removing their Permitted Development status.

We can still recall a time when telephone boxes actually had telephones inside, which were often but not always accompanied by a scribbled list of numbers for your local drug dealers, prostitutes and that all too familiar stench of slightly aged urine or a used condom from the night before. Iconic. Mercifully they weren’t all like this and some of the classic red boxes remain historically lovely.

Since then we’ve had the Mobile phone revolution and as a result the humble telephone box is on its way out. Cleverly, some of them still find metaphorical employment as converted WiFi hotspots, while others are being replaced by BT’s super-modern InLinkUK kiosks (here) or similar, but on the whole the overall number should be in decline.

Instead some of you may find it surprising that the number of applications to build new boxes has actually sky-rocketed by 927% (based on a sample of 12 council areas). Unfortunately a few crafty companies have cottoned on to the Permitted Development loophole, which allows new boxes to be installed without planning permission. The LGA claims these often end up becoming “little more than advertising billboards.”

The Pace of New Applications
* Newcastle had 95 applications for new boxes in 2017 compared with 1 in 2015.
* Westminster received 180 applications in 2017 compared with 13 in 2015.
* Birmingham had 95 in 2017 compared with 10 in 2015.
* Liverpool had 97 in 2017 compared with 10 in 2015.
* Lambeth had 71 in 2017 compared with 1 in 2015.

As well as being used for advertising, councils have also seen telephone boxes “fall victim to anti-social behaviour, fly-posting and graffiti” (not exactly a new trend or unique to such boxes). On top of that councils say they are powerless to remove them when the telephones are marked as being out of use.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Planning Spokesman, said:

“The rise of the smartphone and digital age has seen the telephone box become a largely obsolete relic of a bygone era.

While there is still a limited need for some telephone boxes in our town centres and cities, for example for emergencies, the number of applications councils have seen is simply staggering.

Companies are exploiting a loophole in the law to allow what is tantamount to Trojan telephone boxes being used as advertising spaces rather than the original purpose of providing a place for people to use a phone.

As a result pedestrians are being bombarded with a series of eyesores that blight the public highway.

Councils are currently powerless to act, so we want the Government to overturn the existing out-of-date legislation and give local authorities the ability to take action where this is an issue.”

Hopefully this is something that can be corrected before the trend gets worse. In the meantime, how can you tell if a Bee is on the phone? You get a buzzy signal. I’ll get my coat.

See below for a list of related applications by area.

2015 2016 2017
Newcastle 1 19 95
Kensington & Chelsea 13 15 97
Birmingham 10 0 95
Leicester 1 0 10
Bristol 1 3 28
Liverpool 10 17 97
Leeds 21 20 96
Westminster 13 45 180
Lambeth 1 1 71
Nottingham 8 0 20
Manchester 10 12 89
Richmond 0 5 36
89 137 914

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. New_Londoner says:

    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the various applications. Is there any way for councils to discriminate in favour of those that offer useful facilities?

    I’ve found the speed of the free Wi-fi on the InLink units impressive (usually over 200Mbps upload and download). On the other hand, some of the other new units seem very flimsy and are prone to being used for a variety of *cough* antisocial behaviour as well as being handy for prostitutes’ cards. Aside from providing an advertising hoarding, their use is unclear as is their longevity – a strong gust of wind should do it!

  2. Bob de Builder says:

    In our village we have 2 boxes that are listed and unused, apart from foreign tourists taking photos and now BT have applied to add a 3rd box to house a ATM machine.

    1. Joe says:

      Our Red BT box houses the village defibrillator.

  3. CarlT says:

    Interesting stats. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Optimist says:

    I love the pics of the phone boxes. When I was a lad, the K2 and K6 were quite common. I don’t rememner the K1 – perhaps they went out of fashion after the Great War because it reminded people of the Kaiser? 😉

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