Flurry of BT bids for hi-tech hubs across Yorkshire as the 'next phase' of new phone box

A symbol of Britain in the traditional phone box may yet be more consigned to the past with a flurry of bids for new futuristic hubs across Yorkshire.
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Street hubs, with free super-fast WiFi, charging points and calls, and the potential to monitor air quality, are also structures for lit advertising boards which fund their services.

BT says this is the "next phase" in the evolution of phone boxes, with £7m in free opportunities for small businesses and linking communities with key council services.

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But a cluster of applications across historic Harrogate town centre have all so far been refused with the borough council condemning them as "intrusive" and "street clutter".

Pictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BTPictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BT
Pictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BT

Now there are 43 bids across Yorkshire, including Sheffield, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield and Harrogate.

Sheffield already has six street hubs, alongside 13 older versions while planners have agreed 14 more. Plans have also been passed in Wakefield for four.

A spokesman said: "Street Hubs are the next phase in the evolution of traditional payphones. As payphones are less used, Street Hubs provide digital connectivity which is available for residents, businesses and visitors to towns and cities across the UK.

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"As digital connectivity becomes more important, Street Hubs offer ultra-fast WiFi and can be fitted with signal boosting cells for mobile phones. They also offer air quality monitoring for councils. And to support small businesses in the cost-of-living crisis, we are also providing free advertising worth over £7m."

Pictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BTPictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BT
Pictures of BT Street Hubs in Sheffield. Dean Atkins, BT

A raft of applications for the historic spa town of Harrogate have been refused over recent days, including on Station Parade, Cambridge and Oxford Street. With one on Prospect Crescent, close to the war memorial and the world-famous Betty's tea rooms, civic society objections were scathing to state it was "tasteless".

Henry Pankhurst, on behalf of Harrogate Civic Society, said in submissions they would be "intrusive" to the street scene, both visually and as a hindrance. Any benefits BT claimed would not outweigh the obtrusion, he insisted, and they amounted to "advertising clutter".

"In large cities and towns their obtrusiveness may be less pronounced," he said. "Harrogate is a modest sized town, the majority of which is covered by the sizable conservation area. This is part of the attraction of Harrogate. It should not become simply a scaled down version of larger urban areas."

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According to planning documents, the street hubs would provide ultrafast WiFi up to one gigabit, fast charging for phones, a dedicated 999 button, access to council services and free phone calls. It would all be free to use, funded by a tall digital display for advertising on either side.

According to BT's submissions, many traditional phone boxes today sit unused, as prime sites for vandalism, and this would transform "legacy payphones" into state-of-the-art hubs. "Not only does this remove old payphones, freeing up space and reducing anti-social behaviours, but each Street Hub gives entire communities access to an unprecedented suite of essential free services," submissions read.