CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Police urge Town Hall to block new wave of phone boxes

...but Camden Council monoliths sail through planning

26 October, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Officers say call boxes attract drug users

POLICE are objecting to a company’s plans to introduce a raft of new phone boxes across Camden, warning they could become “crime generators”.

Residents’ groups have also filed objections to the proposals for new kiosks, which could double up as advertising space, on the grounds that they will clutter the streets.

In some of Camden’s crime hotspots, telephone booths have historically been used as places for drug taking and sex acts and, with the rise of mobile phone use, several have been removed from the borough’s streets in recent years.

Camden’s planners have rejected a host of applications for new phone boxes but firm Euro Payphone has now launched a bid to install them at a series of pavement locations in Camden Town, Chalk Farm and West Hampstead. There are four applications for sites in West End Lane alone. They have been submitted despite the council’s rejection of more than 25 applications from Euro Payphone for new phone box installations earlier this year.

Police constable Jim Cope, from the Met’s Designing Out Crime group, has told planners that the huge rise in mobile phone use meant phone boxes were instead used for bad behaviour rather than making calls.

“Phone boxes in the London borough of Camden have now become crime generators and a focal point for anti-social behaviour [ASB],” he said, in an objection filed at the Town Hall. “My own previous experience of policing Camden highlights the above ASB, ranging from witnessing the taking of Class A drugs, urination, littering, the placing of prostitute cards and sexual activities, all of which have occurred in telephone kiosks.”

He added: “There is no evidence to suggest that any such kiosks are required or would be utilised and they will just become advertising hoardings blocking an already congested pavement.” John Saynor, from the West Hampstead Amenity and Transport group, said: “Apart from being unsightly, unused phone boxes attract litter dumping and drug dealing and general anti-social behaviour.”

Other objectors in West Hampstead said the boxes would clog up busy pavements. Tom Fisher, development executive at Euro Payphone, said in his company’s proposal that the boxes would not attract crime because they had an open side which meant they were “much less appealing to individuals wishing to engage in anti-social behaviour”.

He added: “The design process for the proposed kiosk has been tailored to ensure that the call box will be simple, durable and with a minimum footprint, allowing for easy, seamless integration into its surroundings.”

…but Camden Council free to install wifi monoliths

WHILE Camden’s planning department blocked a new forest of phone boxes from being installed across the borough earlier this year, its own move to install new digital monoliths on pavements did not have any problem scoring consent.

The new “InLink” units, part of a deal between British Telecom and the Town Hall, provide fast WiFi, free calls to landlines and mobile charging points for passers-by, as well as screens for selling advertising space. The slabs, which one New Journal reader compared to the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s cryptic movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, were promoted by Camden’s former digital guru Theo Blackwell, the Labour councillor who recently quit the Town Hall to take up a new job with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

They include new units near Camden High Street, ironically close to where the council pushed for a nearby phone box to be removed because it blocked CCTV sight lines, and where it supported a reorganisation to remove street clutter. Camden’s “investing in communities” chief, Councillor Danny Beales, however, said: “Camden’s InLink units from BT have replaced existing phone boxes, taking up less space on the pavement – roughly two-thirds less than a traditional phone box.”

Pedestrians have been heard sharing the dark humour that users should be careful about plugging in their phones to charging points during the recent epidemic of snatches by moped riders.

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