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Council objects to BT’s plans to remove 50 payphone boxes

[Wednesday 03 September 2008]

Harrogate Borough Council is writing to British Telecom to object in the strongest possible terms to proposals that could result in 50 pay phone boxes being removed from across the district.

As well as objecting on emergency and safety issues – as many of these phones are in remote rural areas with limited mobile coverage – the council joins others in objecting on heritage grounds.

Councillor Nigel Simms, Vice-Chairman of the council’s Planning Committee, says that whilst it is accepted that the increase in mobile phone ownership may have resulted in a decrease in the number of calls from pay phones, this district has a disproportionate number of elderly persons living in remote locations who would rely on a BT phone box for emergency calls. He added: “The Office of Communications (Ofcom) places a responsibility on local councils to canvass the views of the local community. We have done that, from local residents, to Members of Parliament and Parish Councils and the police. We have found none to be in agreement with these proposals.

There is varied mobile coverage in our rural and rugged landscape and we all know that most elderly people do not want to use new technology.

Nigel Simms - Harrogate Borough Council

“We accept that BT must put up a valid business case but in our letter of objection we will be asking them to consider leaving them in situ, converting some with low usage to card only calls or to emergency service only calls. This will remove some of the costs from BT but more importantly will make our more rural communities feel secure in their homes. There is varied mobile coverage in our rural and rugged landscape and we all know that most elderly people do not want to use new technology.”

The council is also objecting on heritage grounds and is urging English Heritage to list the traditional K6 phone boxes – those showing the King George V Crown – where they are located in the Conservation Areas.

“Our plans are to press ahead with this request for listing and, whilst it is more difficult to get listed states outside Conservation Areas, we feel it is justified in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we will also be asking English Heritage to consider those boxes for listing too, added Councillor Simms. “Many of those responding to the consultation said that these traditional boxes are part of our heritage and indeed many said locals cherish them.”

The council is also disappointed that BT has chosen to suggest councils consider sponsoring the boxes and where a phone is left in that they pay an annual fee of £500.

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Mike Gardner, added: “I think it is scandalous that BT have chosen to make this suggestion before the closing date of the consultation – which is 6 September. We, like parish councils, are also confused about what they are actually suggesting which was made via the press and we are making further enquiries. It may be that some of the parish councils will wish to ‘sponsor’ a phone box but first we must do all we can to make sure that BT listen to our objections before any final decisions are made.”

BT has confirmed that it is looking at removing other phone boxes across the district where two are located within 400 metres. BT does not have a duty to consult in these circumstances.

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