‘Disgusting’ red phone boxes spark legal threat
A UK council threatened legal action yesterday over the “disgusting” state of the traditional red phone boxes.
Once seen as symbols of British life, the phone boxes are becoming increasingly redundant and have been turned into drug dens which blight the streets, Westminster City Council said.
It called for BT to seal up the boxes, some of which are listed structures, or face legal action and prosecution.
An audit of the 18 boxes in Soho found foil wraps, white powder residue and cards advertising prostitute services along with broken windows, human waste and graffiti, the council said.
Daniel Astaire, the council’s Cabinet member for society, families and adult services, said: “These phone boxes really are disgusting and have little purpose except for drug dealers. It is not uncommon to find them littered with crack pipes, syringes and smelling of urine.
“We want to either be able to remove them or clean them up, replace the broken glass and seal them shut so they can still be enjoyed as an iconic part of London but not abused by thieves and drug users.”
The council has written to BT asking them to seal the boxes.
But if the telecoms giant fails to act, the council warned it would serve them with an abatement notice under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, requiring suitable works to be carried out within a minimum timeframe.
“If they fail to comply they could face prosecution,” a council spokesman said.
Superintendent Adam Loxley, who is leading a project to clean up Soho for the Metropolitan Police, said officers wanted “to make the iconic red telephone boxes less appealing for those who use them as a place to commit crime or anti-social behaviour”.
A BT spokesman said: “In response to concerns raised previously by Westminster City Council about a number of phone boxes, we stopped incoming calls to some payphones and arranged extra cleaning and engineering visits to several kiosks.
“We received Westminster City Council’s latest letter yesterday afternoon and will be replying shortly, although we have already commenced visiting these kiosks.
“BT is committed to working closely with local authorities and police to combat criminal and anti-social behaviour as this impacts on our service to the public.”
There are some 12,500 red telephone boxes nationwide and BT runs a total of 53,000 street payphones, which cost an average of £800 each to maintain.
This leads to an annual maintenance bill of around £44 million, including £7 million for the cost of theft and vandalism, BT said.
Payphone use has been declining for years with the rise of mobile phones, halving in the last two years, with more than 58 per cent of payphones unprofitable and around 10 per cent used only once a month.