Kiosk or Advertising? Can you remember the last time you used a phone box? How many times have you used one in the last year? I thought so! With almost everyone owning a mobile phone, telephone boxes are fast becoming an anachronism. And yet in Leeds, we have just received 36 applications for new phone boxes in city centre locations, this isn’t the first batch to come forward in recent months and it certainly won’t be the last. This is because their primary purpose is no longer to make telephone calls, but to advertise goods and services.
Rules mean that telephone kiosks can be installed with minimal planning oversight – they are covered by permitted development rights, as is the advertising they bear (which is theoretically a temporary consent, but often becomes permanent). This means that local authorities have few powers to stop the march of the phone box. Reasons for refusal may include harm to a conservation area or the setting of a listed building or impeding pedestrian flow, but controlling street clutter is not. This means that where Councils take a stand and refuse these advertising boxes, cases are often won by the applicant on appeal.
Aside from the issue of street clutter, these boxes frequently fall into a state of disrepair and are often badly designed. And of course they are not used – they may be a haven for spiders (judging by the spiders webs you often find in them!), but have little human use for months on end.
The law needs to be changed to give local authorities like Leeds the power to control the spread of these boxes (which are typically owned by the big advertising companies – a clue if one was needed as to their true purpose) and in so doing, give some power back to local communities.
We have contacted Civic Voice, our umbrella organisation, to see if other towns and cities are having similar problems, and to see if there is any interest in raising the matter at a national level, with a view to getting the law changed – I will keep you posted.