Novel idea for book swap in Hougham phone box could prove costly

The telephone box in question which residents have suggested could be turned into a book swap facility. Photo courtesy of Steve Cattell.
The telephone box in question which residents have suggested could be turned into a book swap facility. Photo courtesy of Steve Cattell.
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Villagers have come up with an innovative idea to convert a disused telephone box into a community book swap, but may need to pay nearly £200 simply to find out whether or not they need planning permission.

The traditional red telephone box has stood unused in the village of Hougham for several years, and is no longer in working order.

Keen to bring it back into use for the community, residents Anthea Nicholl and Judith Potter came up with a plan to turn it into a mini library, where books could be left, borrowed and returned.

Unfortunately, on further investigation, Hougham resident and project supporter, Steve Cattell, discovered they may need to pay £195 just to get an answer on whether planning permission is required.

Mr Cattell said: “I contacted SKDC and asked if we would need planning permission. I have yet to receive a simple yes or no answer, because they insist that we need to apply, for a fee, for ‘a Certificate of Lawfulness’. A standard fee is £195.”

He added: “There are many other examples around the country of phone boxes being converted into libraries, and I wonder if any other villages in SKDC have done the same and had to pay £195 just to be told ‘No, you don’t need planning permission’.”

The council were asked by the Journal to clarify the situation. An SKDC spokesperson said: “Our practice is to direct enquiries of this nature to the Planning Portal, the government’s national planning advice website for online advice on whether planning permission is required.

“If applicants wish for a written confirmation from SKDC on a specific development then the approach endorsed by the Planning Portal is for a Certificate of Lawfulness application to be submitted. The fee attached to this is set by central government.”