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26 space age phone boxes could be on way to Hackney as heritage group warns they are ‘abusing a loophole’

PUBLISHED: 17:03 26 April 2018

An example of the Max 1 box that looks set to be installed in Hackney. Picture: Maximus Networks

An example of the Max 1 box that looks set to be installed in Hackney. Picture: Maximus Networks

Archant

A company hoping to put 26 phone boxes across Hackney (yes, we know it’s 2018) has been accused of “flagrantly abusing a planning loophole” in order to smuggle in digital advertising.

Maximus Networks – which boasts of a successful history in outdoor advertising – has made a host of planning applications for the electronic “public call boxes”.

Under current laws, companies simply need the go-ahead from Ofcom to install phone boxes and councils can only reject an application on grounds of location and appearance. Should that happen, appeals can be made to the planning inspectorate, which can overrule the town hall.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils, has called on the government to change the law and says the “Trojan telephone boxes” are being used to “smuggle in” advertising space – a claim dismissed as “nonsense” by Maximus Networks.

Now the group aiming to preserve Hackney’s heritage has had its say. Hackney Society chair Nick Perry said: “These applications stink.

“They are flagrantly abusing a planning loophole intended to protect rural pay phones to milk an advertising cash cow with their digital billboards.

“There are already loads of barely-used, badly placed kiosks across London and the existing operators have been at this game for some months, converting them into high-tech obelisks or open-sided booths flashing ads.”

A sample of 12 areas by the LGA earlier this year showed a rise of 927 per cent in applications for the phone boxes between 2015 and 2017. LGA planning spokesman Cllr Martin Tett said: “The rise of the smartphone and digital age has seen the phone box become a largely obsolete relic of a bygone era. The number of applications councils have seen is simply staggering.”

Ashley Smatt, director of Maximus Networks, told the Gazette: “I’m so proud of what we are about to do.”

He added: “Traditional phone boxes are still used a lot, actually, but our initial offering does have more than just a traditional pay phone. The roof has small cell equipment in it to give better data coverage and there’s free public WiFi too.”

Ashley said his most recent design, the Max 3 model dubbed “the future”, had “so much public benefit” and would be connected to the emergency services.

He added: “We want cities around the world to look at it and say: ‘Wow, look what London has.’”

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