diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 17, 2023

Back in February, you may remember, I was peeved by the sudden appearance of a BT Street Hub in the middle of the pavement on Stratford High Street.

The idiots, I thought. The pavement's nice and wide here and yet they've plonked their wifi/advert gizmo in a grossly inconvenient spot bang inbetween a lamppost and some planters.

This used to be a "three pushchairs abreast" pavement but BT's inconsiderate positioning had knocked that down to one, in a selfish landgrab that'd blight accessibility for years to come. I sighed that Newham Council had allowed such a thing, and then I came home and did some proper research.

It turned out Newham hadn't condoned it because this land remains under the planning jurisdiction of the LLDC, the Olympic legacy body. More importantly the LLDC hadn't condoned it either, they'd approved an unobstructive location in front of the planters where a phonebox used to be. For some reason BT's engineers had ignored everything in the planning application and instead placed their double-sided advertising screen in the middle of the pavement, closer to passing traffic.

I blogged about the imposition and it seems several other people were deeply peeved too. In particular at least three readers got in touch with Newham and/or the LLDC and objected, officially, not necessarily thinking it would do any good.

Caught out, BT's response was to submit a new planning application "to retrospectively authorise the development of a BT Street HUB and vary condition 2 (Approved Plans) of planning permission 21/00517/FUL dated 1st August 2022." In other words, having installed their hub in the wrong place they wanted approval to leave it there, this being the path of least expense.

BT claimed they hadn't been able to install the hub in the intended location because of unexpected infrastructure beneath the pavement. They also claimed that in its revised position it still left 2.8m clearance to the edge of the pavement so it wasn't an obstruction so please rubberstamp this thankyou.

We weren't having that so at least three of us went out with a tape measure and confirmed yes, the perpendicular distance was 2.8m but the "effective clearance" to the lamppost was only 1.3m. Never mess with a group of community-minded citizens unintentionally brought together by a post on a blog.

Here's the location plan from the revised application, coloured in by me. The yellow square is where the phone kiosk used to be. The light blue rectangle is where BT said they'd install their Smart Hub. The red rectangle is where they actually installed it. I'll explain what the darker blue rectangle is in a minute.

On 14th April Newham council wrote to BT telling them to remove the Street Hub within 21 days (and warning that if they didn't, "the Council may themselves remove the structure and recover from you the expense of so doing"). That felt good, that felt like all our nudging had provoked an appropriate reaction.

On 19th April BT submitted a third planning application, this time "seeking non-material amendment to relocate the approved position for the Street Hub". This time they intended to plonk it almost exactly where they said they would but slightly further back - that's the dark blue rectangle - within the original footprint of the phone box.

On 17th May the LLDC approved the move, passive-aggressively citing "To ensure that the development is undertaken in accordance with the approved drawings and documents" as their reason. And this week I walked down Stratford High Street and was delighted to see they've actually moved it, job done!

It'll still blare out adverts under the guise of being a phone hub, but that was never the issue here. Most importantly it's now located off the main drag of the pavement, indeed slightly further back than originally intended, and will no longer be making life more awkward for those using the pavement. Hurrah!

It's not a gamechanger because it was always possible to get past, but removing the obstruction is going to make hundreds of thousands of people's lives a teensy bit better, not just this year but for several years to come. As life's little victories go I'll take that as a long term win.

It just goes to show that big business doesn't always get away with blundering in, making a mess and then pretending it wasn't a problem. Reading their planning submissions it's clear BT thought they were going to get away with it, right up until the moment when they didn't.

And it also goes to show there is a point to complaining because sometimes it totally works. You need someone to notice, someone to dig a bit and someone who can phrase the subsequent objection in an appropriate but damning way. Hurrah for local blogging, hurrah for citizen action and hurrah for being able to walk down the pavement unobstructed.

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