Northumberland phone boxes under threat as BT launches consultation

BT has begun consultation to remove a number of phone boxes in the area, including the last phone boxes in Belford and Bamburgh.

By Ian Smith
Saturday, 27 July, 2019, 06:00
Bamburgh phone box.

Phone box use is down 90% over the last 10 years, according to BT, which has subsequently launched a programme to reduce the number of phone boxes.

Bamburgh ward councillor Guy Renner-Thompson said: "I have already asked the officers at County Hall to object to these plans from BT.

“While it’s obvious phone box use has declined, they can still be vital in an emergency, especially in north Northumberland where mobile phone signal can be patchy and we have lots of visitors from outside the area.

Belford phone box.

“The red phone box in Bamburgh is iconic and must be one of the most photographed in the country, it would be a travesty if BT were allowed to take it away."

Belford Parish Council also plans to object to its removal.

It has also raised concerns that regular calls cannot be made from the phone box at the moment, only 999 emergency calls.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“BT removed a number of phone boxes about two years ago but we’d asked to keep these ones in the centre of Belford and Bamburgh,” added Coun Renner-Thompson.

BT consultation notice.

Unlike a normal business, BT can’t just take away services for reasons linked to money. They have a duty, known as the Universal Service Obligation (USO), to provide a reasonable number of working phone boxes where they’re needed.

Ofcom rules come into play when BT want to remove the one and only call box from a site, meaning a 400-metre walking distance surrounding a phone box.

This means that if there are two phone boxes within 400 metres’ walk of each other, BT can take one away without following Ofcom rules. However, if they want to take away the last one as well, they have to follow an agreed process.

Ofcom rules state BT must inform the public and consult with the local authorities. The authority then has 90 days to object, which is known as a ‘local veto’.

Phone boxes can also be adopted by the parish council or local community groups for just £1 under the The Adopt A Kiosk scheme.