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Plan to convert Cambridge phone box into tiny coffee shop runs into difficulties

A proposal to turn a phone box in Cambridge city centre into a tiny coffee shop has been put on ice due to concerns over pedestrian safety.

Jake Armon applied to convert the disused BT phone box in St Andrew’s Street so that it could sell pre-ordered coffee made by a barista based inside it.

The phone box in St Andrew's Street, Cambridge. Picture: Google Street View
The phone box in St Andrew's Street, Cambridge. Picture: Google Street View

But planning officers at Cambridge City Council advised him to withdraw it, as they could not support the plans. Further discussions about the idea are expected to take place, however.

In the planning documents submitted, it said: “The proposed conversion of the phone box provides the opportunity to repurpose an iconic British landmark and provide a sustainable form of employment in an outside environment.

“The last few years are unprecedented circumstances caused by the global pandemic has fundamentally changed the way traditional retail/hospitality works. Finding new and innovative ways to create businesses and employment is the principle of the phone box conversion. It is a model that has worked across the country and has never been so relevant and appropriate.

“The conversion creates a small business utilising an existing space in a great location for footfall offering a convenient and safe trading space.”

But the highways authority said that while phone boxes were allowed on public highways as a public service, they should be removed once no longer in use or would be considered unnecessary street furniture. The box is not listed.

The authority said converting the phone box would breach the Highways Act, as the doors opening onto the pavement, which could be a “detriment to pedestrian safety”.

Planning officers were also concerned about ”adverse impacts on the character of the north side of St Andrew’s Street”.

But they told the applicant he could apply for pre-application advice to determine whether a “profitable use can be established at the existing telephone box”.

Mr Armon agreed to withdraw the application in order to discuss the plans with the city council to find the “best way forward”.

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