BT facing ‘strong pressure’ over Richmondshire rural phone boxes

The phone box in Thwaite is one that is at risk.

Parish councils have spoken of their delight after winning support from an influential committee in a battle with telecommunications giant BT over ‘life-saving phone boxes’ in remote areas.

Members of North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee has approved a move to write to the £24bn turnover firm urging it to retain any of the 43 Richmondshire phone boxes which parish councils consider vital for public safety.

The issue was added to the agenda of the meeting by Upper Dales county councillor Yvonne Peacock.

The meeting heard numerous parish councils in the district had raised strong objections to the BT plans and that residents living in areas where mobile phone coverage was patchy had been left reeling after learning of the proposals.

North Yorkshire is poorly served when it comes to mobile phone coverage with only 19 per cent indoor coverage by all four operators and 65 per cent geographic coverage by one of the operators compared to 91 per cent nationally.

While there are hopes that the introduction of 5G technology and a deal between operators and the government to share masts will improve the situation, it is believed some areas are still years away from getting reliable mobile coverage.

After the meeting, Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council chairman Councillor Jill McMullon said the committee’s decision highlighted how passionately residents felt about the landlines, which often served as lifelines.

She said: “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.”

Cllr Peacock had told members of the committee how phone boxes played vital role in alerting emergency services to life and death situations, while Councillor Heather Moorhouse, whose division includes part of the North York Moors, said the public landlines needed maintaining until there was mobile phone coverage across the area.

The committee’s chairman Councillor Angus Thompson said in poor mobile coverage areas the phone boxes were needed to use defibrillators, so those helping people suffering a heart attack could be left “knocking on doors to find a landline”.

He added: “We need to apply pressure, strong pressure, to keep these landlines up and running.”

The telecommunications firm said the move in Richmondshire was due to a huge decline in usage, and it was not proposing to remove any public payphones in areas identified as suicide hotspots, accident blackspots or without any mobile coverage.

A BT spokesman said it would consider the views of residents before making a final decision on the future of the phone boxes, some of which are in remote areas such as near Buttertubs Pass.

He said: “Most people now have a mobile phone and calls made from our public telephones have fallen by around 90 per cent in the past decade.

“The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is also diminishing all the time, with at least 98 per cent of the UK having either 3G or 4G coverage.”

Richmondshire District Council will consider its response to BT at a full meeting of the authority on December 10.