Westminster City Council has been fighting so hard to stop new phone boxes popping up on its pavements that one councillor said it is playing a game of ‘whack-a-mole’.The council has really taken a big dislike them. It doesn’t like the fact they are plastered in advertising, says they get scruffy and are often used as bases for drug dealing.
But now it has won a landmark court case in its battle with the kiosks it says are really only masquerading as phone boxes on the borough’s pavements.It is a landmark decision Westminster says will hand back control of the pavements to councils around the country who previously lacked powers to fight off the advertising-laden phone and internet kiosks popping up all over Britain’s high streets.
How big is the problem?
Westminster already has more than 1,000 public call boxes and kiosks and Police have previously revealed some people make use of the anonymity of public call boxes to arrange drug deals.In fact Westminster once fielded 300 kiosk planning applications in just two years , including one set of requests for a kiosk every 15 metres along Edgware Rd.
That appears about to change with a landmark decision by a High Court judge last week (February 8) finding in favour of the council in a judicial review.A proposed BT InLink phone box featuring its advertising hoarding which is to be installed near Charing Cross Station
What did the court decide?
Currently, councils have limited grounds to refuse the applications as telecommunications companies have permitted development rights to install the kiosksThe council had gone head-to-head with New World Payphones Ltd concerning its application to replace two existing phone boxes on Marylebone Rd with one of its kiosks.
The council refused consent for the site and the lit-up digital advertising panel and the company appealed to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the refusal.Last June, it won its appeal, but the council challenged the decision , arguing that the purpose of the kiosk was not for communications, but for advertising.
The judgment showed Westminster claimed many of the applications the council was getting were from outdoor advertising businesses, not communications operators.The need for more phone kiosks was shrinking when most people carried internet-capable mobile phones in their pockets already, it argued.
New World Payphones Ltd told the planning inspector during its appeal that it was upgrading its outdated equipment and its new kiosks were designed to be open to replace old phone boxes people could use for “antisocial behaviour.”
It argued its kiosks did not just carry advertising, they were also equipped with features like public WiFi access and directions.But the judge ruled new phone boxes being installed across the city were set to be used as advertising , with hoardings “piggybacking” on the communications function, and therefore should require planning permission.
The ruling takes back councils’ control of the pavements across the country, Westminster planning chief Cllr Richard Beddoe said.”Most people would struggle to think when they last used a payphone. For twenty years they have been obsolete, and just end up as anti-social behaviour magnets or x-rated display boards for private escort services and drug dealers.”
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