Drug dealing concerns delay BT advertising plan

BT Street Hubs are set to be installed across Norwich

BT Street Hubs are set to be installed across Norwich - Credit: BT

Hi-tech street advertising boards planned for Norwich have been delayed after councillors raised drug dealing concerns. 

Telecoms giant BT submitted three applications for 'street hubs' – 75inch advertising monoliths with free Wi-Fi and phone charging facilities - at sites on Plumstead Road, St Swithins Road and Brigg Street. 

The hubs, which will be replacing traditional telephone kiosks, are being rolled out across the country to mark the 100th anniversary of the UK's first phone box. 

The structures also allow people to make free phone calls and track air quality and noise.

At Thursday’s City Hall planning committee meeting, Green Party councillor Sandra Bogelein raised concerns after looking at similar structures in other council areas. 

She said: “One of the issues the police have raised is hoax calls from the 999 function significantly increased after they have been built in other locations.

“Second is that in locations where drug dealing has been an issue the free 30-second phone call has been a convenient way of organising drop-offs.” 

Green city councillor Sandra Bogelein. Photo: Neil Didsbury

Green city councillor Sandra Bogelein. Photo: Neil Didsbury - Credit: Archant

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Council officer Lara Emerson said BT had submitted an antisocial behaviour management plan, working closely with the police to make sure that incidents do not happen.

Fellow Green councillor, Lesley Grahame, also raised concerns over energy use from the signs. 

The Guardian recently revealed that advertising boards in Manchester used the same amount of energy as three households. 

Several councillors raised concerns over the highways impact of the Plumstead Road sign, with Labour's Marion Maxwell saying people driving would see the adverts but not the bus shelter behind. 

Councillors agreed to defer the Plumstead Road application for further consultation with the highways authority at County Hall. 

Plumstead Road is one of three sites that had its application deferred

Plumstead Road is one of three sites that had its application deferred - Credit: Google Street View

A council officer then revealed that highways had not commented on the application for Brigg Street either, which councillors also referred back to them for comment. 

He said: “There is some doubt in my mind as to whether they have actively considered some of the applications where they haven’t responded.” 

While discussing the St Swithins Road plan Green councillor Gary Champion raised privacy concerns over the hubs, which he said track access from mobile devices. 

He said: “It isn’t just a billboard; it isn’t just advertising.” 

“Big Brother,” responded Keith Driver, chair of the committee. 

Councillors voted to defer the application, six for and five against, asking for more information on energy use and data collection.

BT has submitted applications for 11 hubs in total, but plans for Thorpe Road, Sprowston Road and St Giles Street have already been refused by planning officers. Five applications are still waiting for consideration.