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Photo of grey box on Portland Street with notice: "Words: "Walking will be the main way of getting round the city" - Manchester City Council. Deeds: "Fuck you pedestrians, here's a big grey box."

‘F*ck you pedestrians’ – posters protesting against ‘grey boxes’ appear all over city centre

If you’ve been walking around the Manchester lately, you may have noticed a few grey boxes dotted around – many of which are located on the pavement.

Official posters on the boxes state that they are a “temporary feature,” as a placeholder before the installation of “state-of-the-art 86” digital screens.”

Photo of box on Deansgate with notice in all caps: "FUCK THESE STUPID BOXES."
Anonymous protesters have taken matters in to their own hands. Photo: Jack Fifield.

However, the boxes have attracted criticism from many Mancunians for reducing pavement space while the council has been encouraging active travel. Some anonymous vigilante protesters have taken to sticking unofficial notices to the boxes, ranging from the simple “F*CK THESE STUPID BOXES” to longer paragraphs criticising the council.

By 1:00 PM yesterday, advertising company JCDecaux – who maintain the sites – had already removed some of the unofficial posters in high footfall areas, such as Piccadilly Gardens.

According to the council, 81 of the 86 sites are upgrades to previous paper-based advertising boards that have been there since the 1990s. The advertising provides the council an additional £2.4m in revenue each year.

A pedestrian passing by a grey box with the official notice on it.
The boxes have been criticized. Photo: Jack Fifield.

Manchester Council’s City Centre Transport Strategy states “walking will be at the heart of our plans for the city centre.”

Callum, 30, lives in the city centre and has been mapping the locations he has found. Speaking to Mancunian Matters, he said:

“Having clutter all over the city doesn’t make it feel more welcoming or safe to get around. The displays will cause people having to walk very close to each other. The less walkable a city is, the less safe it is.

“We need to have a conversation about what makes a city great, and council leaders need to listen very carefully. The best cities in the world are walkable, clutter-free, clean, and safe. Manchester has a lot of work to do.”

Screenshot of map of grey boxes.
Callum has been mapping the boxes on his website. Screenshot: https://caldvs.github.io/grey-boxes/

Speaking about the general issue of pavement clutter at the launch of the ‘Bee Network’ back in October, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “This is a very important issue and Chris Boardman, who is our cycling and walking commissioner is very conscious of this point, because we are going to see electric vehicle charging points on our streets.

“We will have a bike hire scheme later this year but you’re quite right to say that all of that brings, if you like more clutter onto the pavement, and we’ve got to make sure that, as much as possible, we integrate those things into single units so that we don’t take away pavement space from people who need it.”

In response to request for comment, a spokesperson for Manchester City Council said:

“In December 2020 work began to replace the old backlit paper advertising columns and units which had been in place throughout the city centre since the 1990s.

“A total of 86 sites are being upgraded to new digital screens following planning consent being granted. This planning process took into account highway safety for each individual unit as well as the historic impact of their placement, including how pedestrians move on the highway.

“The Council understands the concerns around the temporary grey covers for the units however, they were essential to protect members of the public from the electric cables which will supply power to the new units.

“Importantly, set against a decade of cuts to Local Authority budgets this upgrade will provide the Council an additional £2.4m in revenue each year, money which will be spent providing the vital services thousands of Mancunians rely on.

“Work is scheduled to be completed on the new units by December 14.”

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