The Australian city has refused 81 applications to display advertising on public phone booths from JCDecaux, stating that the signage is not low impact.
The City of Melbourne has refused planning permits to outdoor advertising company JC Decaux to display commercial advertising on public phone booths across the central area of the city.
It has refused 81 applications in total. The city held a community consultation last year and found that more than 90 per cent of respondents provided negative feedback on the impact of the digital advertising payphone structures.
Other Australian capital cities, and a number of councils in greater Melbourne, have also raised concerns that the new super-sized phone booths are significantly disrupting footpath traffic and negatively impacting the public realm.
Chair of the City of Melbourne’s planning portfolio Councillor Nicholas Reece said the signage is not low impact, would negatively impact heritage places, conflicts with Council’s urban design objectives, and would result in streetscape and amenity issues.
"As custodians of the city, we have a responsibility to maintain the quality of the streets and public realm. We don’t want people to be bombarded with oversized and intrusive commercial advertising on public infrastructure," Reece said.
"First and foremost cities are for people, and the interests of the people who use our streets must come first. We have heard loud and clear the complaints from the community that these new structures are distracting, impeding pedestrian traffic and negatively impacting a number of local retailers and businesses."
Under the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018, planning approval is not required to install telecommunications infrastructure provided it meets the criteria for ’low-impact facility’.
"First and foremost cities are for people, and the interests of the people who use our streets must come first”
At 2.7 metres high and 1.2 metres wide, the new payphone structures are 600mm taller and 400mm wider than the older phone booths. They are also fitted with 75" LCD screens – which are 60 per cent larger than the previous signage displays – and which are programmed to show up to four advertisements per minute.
Accordingly, as well as rejecting the applications for advertising by JCDecaux, the City of Melbourne will apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) seeking an order that Telstra’s new larger phone booths do not meet the low impact criteria and therefore require planning approval.
"We’re seeking a ruling from VCAT that the supersized payphones should require planning approval," Reece said.
"With nearly 90 per cent of Australians owning a mobile phone, it’s hard to believe there’s a need for this many supersized phone booths in the central city. Indeed, these new structures are more like digital billboards masquerading as phone booths on the footpaths of our city."
In October 2018, prior to receiving the 81 planning applications, the City Melbourne conducted community consultation on the impact of the digital advertising payphone structures.
Of the 338 contributions received via Participate Melbourne:
Walking trips within the City of Melbourne increased 14 per cent (by 38,000 trips) during a recent four year period. Reece said: "Travelling by foot is the most utilised mode of transport in the Hoddle Grid [the city’s central business district (CBD)] and as custodians of the city we have a responsibility to maintain space for people."
Additionally, analysis of the pedestrian network has found that if the walking connectivity within the central business district is reduced by 10 per cent, the value of the economy of the Hoddle Grid will be reduced by up to $2.1 billion per annum. Pedestrian flow is vital to the city economy and, of course, retailers and other businesses.
Writing on the Telstra exchange forum, the company’s product principal, media, product and technology, Pete Manwaring, acknowledged a concern has been raised about the size and location of its new payphones. He said the “small increase in size” is mainly to accommodate the fibre connections and other equipment required in a modern smart city, “all collocated within a considered design to minimise street clutter”.
He added: “The new payphone booths have also been designed to reduce pedestrian impact by adding height over width. The newly installed booths in Melbourne are only 15cm wider than the cabinets they replaced, which have been in use for over 35 years.
"We believe the small increase in size and new design will result in minimal impact on the streetscape, with the additional services the phones will offer bringing real benefits to the community and passers-by”
"In most cases the new payphones will be installed in non-pedestrian thoroughfares and within the lines of other existing street furniture like seats, trees and bins, and motorbike parking to reduce pedestrian impact.
"This is the first major redesign of the payphone booth since 1983, and we believe the small increase in size and new design will result in minimal impact on the streetscape, with the additional services the phones will offer bringing real benefits to the community and passers-by.”
The company says it will continue to engage and work with all stakeholders, including local governments and other associations on this project.
Telstra provides over 16,000 public payphones across the country, which Manwaring said are to serve the needs of all Australians: “Payphones in Australian regional and metro areas provide a vital civic utility, with 13 million calls made last year, 200,000 of which were emergency calls to ‘000’.”
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