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pgc all green working and signpost with lettering new colour 2
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phone boxes in green lanes n13On more than one occasion, on leaving the Alfred Herring, it's occurred to me that I might be seeing double.  Surely there shouldn't be so many phone boxes along this stretch of Green Lanes?  When almost everyone has a mobile and hardly anyone uses phone boxes?  And at least one was installed quite recently?  Is it time to go teetotal?

Well, that very sober body the Local Government Association (LGA) has also noticed this phenomenon, which it turns out is much more marked in some other towns and cities.  Not only are phone boxes not disappearing (apart from the red cast iron boxes that are part of our heritage, but that BT is keen to get rid of), but new ones are being installed at an increasing rate.  For instance, last year in the City of Westminster firms applied to install 180 new boxes, while two years earlier they only asked for 13.

The LGA has an explanation for this odd behaviour.  The main purpose of the boxes is not to enable phone calls but to act as advertising hoardings, and any firm licensed by Ofcom is allowed to install new boxes without applying for planning permission.  Councils can try to block them by objecting to their appearance, but the telecoms firms can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

The Association wants a change in the law.  Its planning spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett, sets out their view:

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“Councils are currently powerless to act, so we want the Government to overturn the existing out-of-date legislation and give local authorities the ability to take action where this is an issue.”

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