Free calls and internet on the street corner if new hubs replace Blackpool phone booths

Traditional phone boxes could start disappearing on Blackpool streets - to be replaced with high-tech communication hubs.

By Shelagh Parkinson
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 3:46 pm

BT has revealed plans to roll out street hubs across the resort with 14 sites currently identified for development.

Pay phones would be replaced with the new units offering free internet access and free calls to landlines and mobile phones.

The service would be paid for by advertising, with digital advertising screens also proposed at each hub.

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An image of one of the proposed BT hubs

Planning applications have been submitted to Blackpool Council seeking permission for each unit and advertising consent, mainly in town centre locations.

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The screens could also be used to deliver public service messages, while the technology enables restrictions to be imposed so they cannot be used for criminal purposes such as drug dealing.

A report accompanying the applications says the move will enhance the public realm by replacing phone boxes with units of "a sleek, modern and innovative design."

Existing phone box on Bank Hey Street - Google Maps

It adds: "The Street Hub has added benefits of free Wi-Fi connectivity and other valuable services to tourists and recreational users, thereby encouraging greater use of the city’s streetscapes as part of the wider digital connectivity expected in modern cities.

"To enable this to be provided free of cost to the taxpayer (national and local), advertisement on either side of the unit is required to support this function, and as such is an intrinsic part of the development. "

Applications have been submitted to install hubs at two locations on Whitegate Drive, three locations on Church Street, plus on Victoria Street, at 95 the Promenade, on Central Drive near Coral Island, on the Promenade opposite the miniature golf centre, Tyldesley Road, Talbot Road, Corporation Street and Bank Hey Street.

It comes in the wake of numerous planning applications to install mobile phone masts across the town to boost advanced 5G mobile phone and internet coverage.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said: "Providing free phone calls and internet access will be positive for the town, but I wouldn't like to see advertising on every street corner.

"There are already a lot of mobile masts going up, and add these hubs to the masts and it will be a lot of additional street furniture in Blackpool."

If the hubs go ahead, the council would receive about 876 hours per unit each year to promote their public messages on the screens.

Documents add: "Street Hubs are also capable of providing access to maps to the public, and giving directions to nearby landmarks and services – a valuable resource for visitors or those without access to a smartphone

"They also act as wayfinding boards, giving walkers and cyclists clear directions. Furthermore, local advertisers are encouraged to give simple directions to their businesses. "

Emergency services such as the police can also "quickly display emergency and community awareness messaging. For example, BT have previously partnered with the Camden Town Police in north London to help raise awareness of the threat posed by phone snatchers on mopeds."

The applications will now be considered by town hall planners before a decision is made.