Inspector pulls the plug on 'Trojan horse' phone boxes in Preston city centre

An invasion of futuristic phone boxes in Preston city centre has been fought off by a Government inspector.

Monday, 15th June 2020, 3:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 8:36 am
How the state-of-the-art phone hubs would have looked (Image: Infocus Public Networks).

A London-based telecoms company has lost its appeal against the city council's refusal to allow eight so-called "Trojan horse" kiosks to be erected along its main shopping streets.

The victory could set a crucial precedent for other local authorities battling to keep the digital booths - suspected by some as a front for advertising in prime locations - out of their towns and cities.

While the inspector said he could find no evidence that the phone boxes in Preston would be used for other purposes, he backed the council's case that they would clutter the pavements of Fishergate, Church Street and Market Place and, in some cases, become a hazard for pedestrians.

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Objectors claimed the kiosks could be used for advertising in prime locations (Image: Infocus Public Networks).

Infocus Public Networks Ltd took its case to appeal last July after the council refused to allow its state-of-the-art communications hubs on six pavement locations along Fishergate - outside the railway station, WH Smith, Top Shop, River Island, Cafe Nero and the corner with Chapel Street - as well as two others near to the new Market Hall and outside Miller Arcade in Church Street.

As IPN is a licensed "electronic communications code operator" the only reason council chiefs could block the plans was to refuse them on grounds of siting and appearance.

With seven of the phone boxes planned for Preston's "shared space" - which won an award for the way the city's main shopping thoroughfare had been decluttered of street furniture - the council argued the new kiosks would destroy that work.

The Government has since changed the rules on permitted development to give council more powers to stop unwanted phone hubs popping up after an avalanche of complaints that they were really advertising stands in disguise.

But because IPN lodged it appeal against the Preston eight before the rule change came in, the matter still had to be heard before an inspector.

The phone boxes, which stand 2.6-metres high and have a 32-inch interactive touch screen, were proposed at intervals along Fishergate and on to the Markets Quarter.

Opponents felt they would be a blight on the main shopping area, while others suspected their real purpose was for advertising at the most populated spots in the city centre.

Rejecting IPN's appeal, the inspector said the eight kiosks would add to the street furniture that was already present and "represent an imposing addition" to the streetscape.

The proposals would, he ruled, "cause harm to the character and appearance of the areas in question" and would cause harm to designated heritage assets such as the railway station, the Markets Quarter and the Miller Arcade.

Because they were proposed to sit at right angles to the road, they would also narrow the footpath for pedestrians, causing a possible hazard.

But commenting on suggestions the boxes were just a front for street advertising, the inspector said he could find "no evidence to suggest that the proposed developments include elements that are there for the purpose of advertising."

He dismissed all eight appeals.

Deputy leader of Preston City Council, Coun Peter Moss, who is also the cabinet member for planning and regulation, said: "This is good news for Preston and shows the Council's willingness to defend inappropriate applications on planning grounds."

Councils around the UK have opposed the introduction of the so-called Trojan kiosks

A Local Government Association spokesman said that while the humble phone box had become “a largely obsolete relic of a bygone era,” the number of applications for phone hubs in town and city centres recently had been “simply staggering.”

He said companies were “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."