Hands off our red phone boxes, say Yorkshire parish councils

North Yorkshire residents are fighting to save 43 phone boxes that have been slated for removal, saying that they are crucial for public safety in an area with patchy mobile coverage.

Red telephone boxes are in peril. With people now reliant on mobile phones to communicate when on the move, BT has put forward plans to remove boxes that are infrequently used. However, this is a problem in isolated rural areas where mobile reception is at best sketchy and phone boxes can often be the only way to make calls in an emergency. In North Yorkshire, where BT is considering scrapping 43 payphones — even though less than two thirds of the territory has proper mobile connectivity, compared to 91% across the UK — parish councils are fighting back.

‘It’s all very well BT looking at usage statistics, but if there’s an accident, the availability of a phone box in an area where you can’t use the phone because the signal is too weak could be the difference between life and death,’ Jill McMullon, chair of the Hawes and High Abbotside parish council told local newspapers.

The phone company countered that it’s not going to take down boxes in areas identified as ‘suicide hotspots, accident blackspots or without any mobile coverage’ but local residents think this is not enough.

As a result, Richmondshire District councillor Yvonne Peacock raised the point in a meeting and members of the North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee yesterday approved plans to write to BT and request the company to keep any phones that are deemed to be important for public safety.

‘We need to apply pressure, strong pressure, to keep these landlines up and running,’ noted committee chairman Angus Thompson, who highlighted concerns that people in a medical emergency might otherwise have to go knocking on doors to find a landline.

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Councillor Heather Moorhouse added that the boxes need to remain in place until the area has proper mobile coverage.

The issue will now be discussed next month at a full meeting of the Richmondshire District Council.

But while preserving the BT boxes is important, residents and businesses alike have also highlighted that, ultimately, it’s crucial to get better mobile reception in the countryside. Libby Bateman, the North Rural Adviser for the Country Land and Business Association, which represents local landowners says tat ‘it is vital that public call boxes are maintained in rural areas regardless of usage, specifically if there is inadequate mobile coverage.’ Nonetheless, she continues, ‘more is needed to close the digital divide.’

‘The CLA is strongly arguing for an obligation on network operators to deliver a Single Rural Network, which would allow roaming between service providers in rural areas. This would allow users to jump onto different networks if there is poor coverage from their provider in a specific area.’

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