'Trojan' telephone boxes smuggling advertising onto the high street, say councils

26 January 2018, 18:46

Kiosks purporting to be telephone boxes are being used to smuggle advertising onto high streets, councils have warned.

And the increase in applications for installing the kiosks has increased more than 900% in two years.

"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," Councillor Martin Tett, planning spokesman for the Local Government Association, said.

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

New generation phone boxes often resemble a touchscreen kiosk rather than familiar red booths.

In 2016 BT began a London rollout of new Link kiosks, fitted with large touch screens, free calls and wi-fi, and offering access to maps, directions and local services.

Sensors would be fitted to the kiosks to capture real-time data from the local environment, it was reported, and they would be funded by advertising.

The LGA says phone companies have been able to establish phone boxes to sell advertising without oversight, thanks to a law that allows them to install them without council permission.

Under the current law, companies only need a license from Ofcom to install the boxes - and the increase in the number of applications for the facilities has increased dramatically.

Westminster alone received 180 applications for the boxes in 2017, compared to 13 in 2015, While Newcastle saw the number of its applications jump to 95 from 1 and Lambeth saw a jump from one to 71.

Representing 370 councils in England and Wales, the LGA says the Government needs to change the law to give councils more control over the "excessive numbers" of boards.

"The rise of the smartphone and digital age has seen the telephone box become a largely obsolete relic of a bygone era," Cllr Tett said.

"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.

"Councils are currently powerless to act, so we want the Government to overturn the existing out-of-date legislation and give local authorities the ability to take action where this is an issue."