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Company director defends ‘whack-a-mole’ applications for new phone boxes

Pavements must not be swamped, warns planning chief

03 December, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

How the phone boxes look

A RASH of new applications to place phone boxes in some of Camden’s busiest streets has prompted calls for a change in planning laws to block what critics say is stealth advertising.

Phone company Maximus revealed plans this week to install another 27 new phone boxes in prominent areas. Their instalment and maintenance will be paid for by LED adverts.

Company boss Ashley Smatt told the New Journal the phone boxes would provide free wi-fi on the streets and provide cheaper calls for people on low incomes, as well as offering public information. But opponents claim they are a tool to make profits by selling adverts, will clutter up pavements and increase anti-social behaviour.

Mr Smatt said: “Call boxes in the traditional sense are used less due to mobile phone adoption.

However, there seems to be a misunderstanding about the value of next-generation call boxes. “Unlike the badly maintained call boxes, they consist of 4G and 5G wi-fi equipment that is key to keeping people connected. This is why next-generation interactive hubs are now needed more than ever.”

He added advertising on new boxes paid for their upkeep and compared it to the way bus shelters and tube platforms have been used to sell space to help fund maintenance. The government has been lobbied by councils hit by numerous and ­regular applications – described by critics as “whack-a-mole” boxes, as after one application is thrown out, another is submitted – to stop the boxes being installed under what is known as “permitted rights”.

The Town Hall has previously supported the installation of BT hubs as part of their own tech deal to provide free wi-fi but are objecting to Maximus’s plans.

Planning chief Labour councillor Danny Beales said the council needed stronger powers to control their spread. In the past two years, 170 applications for boxes have been registered – with a further 27 in the past week, running from St Giles High Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Euston Road and Tottenham Court Road up to Avenue Road, Finchley Road and Haverstock Hill.

Cllr Beales said: “We could be swamped by them – and the latest flurry shows they are not stopping. There has been a massive proliferation across the borough and it is unfortunate that under permitted development rules we can’t question what these phone boxes are actually used for.”

He added: “There has already been a massive increase in wi-fi services in businesses and homes – and even on the tube. We do want to increase wi-fi availability but it seems these are not even in areas where it is needed – they are in places where there is a high volume of pedestrians. They aren’t in the back streets of the Maiden Lane estate or Kilburn for example – but in the busiest streets.”

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