Calls to protect Lochalsh and Wester Ross phone boxes lodged

BT want to axe 110 kiosks out of a total of 508 in the Highlands because of reduced usage and the rise of mobile phone use.

Objections have been received to the closure of several phone boxes in Lochalsh and Wester Ross as part of a BT consultation.

At a meeting of Highland Council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee last week members heard how BT want to axe 110 kiosks out of a total of 508 in the area because of reduced usage and the rise of mobile phone use.

However, the council has pointed out that ‘network roaming’ only allows a connection to the emergency services on the 4G network which is not available in remote parts of the Highlands or to customers on a pay-as-you-go basis. It is also the case that, in the event of an emergency, rescuers are not able to call back with updates or to request more information if a call is made using the roaming facility.

Among those kiosks earmarked for closure is one at Killilan in Lochalsh. A total of 52 calls were made from that kiosk in the last year.

Thirteen objections were received in relation to this planned removal, including one from Dornie Community Council which highlighted the fact that there is “no mobile signal within six miles (potentially 30 minutes by car), in an area popular with walkers and cyclists”.

The community council also pointed out that the area is “known for mountainside fatalities”, and added: “Nearby households are typically vacant during daytime, so no alternative. Payphone is vital to raising alarm in case of distress on hills or injury of estate workers. Removal would exacerbate risks to public safety in the event of an emergency.”

Objections were also received to the removal of the phone boxes at Achmore, Achnasheen, Applecross, Strathkanaird, and Elphin.

Committee members were asked to consider and agree the council’s response to BT’s proposals. The finalised response must be submitted to BT and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by 13th November and will be published on the council’s website.

If BT disagree with any of the objections made by the council, they will ask to formally review those objections with the council and with Ofcom.

Editorial: Some public phones are still needed on the west coast

We have some sympathy with BT’s removal of public phone boxes. In the age of the mobile phone many home landlines have been made redundant, let alone phone kiosks on street corners.

Those iconic cast-iron red boxes with rectangular windows on three sides, a triumph of British functional design, have served us well for almost 100 years. For the most part, their purpose as places in which to make, and occasionally receive, telephone calls has come to an end.

As has happened elsewhere in the UK, some of them can and should be adopted by communities and imaginatively transformed into picturesque little libraries, art galleries and, as the Skye charity Lucky2BHere is aware, shelter for heart attack defibrillators.

That does not mean that every single Highland box should have its payphone removed. Even in modern Britain, not everybody has a mobile phone, and those who do – residents and visitors alike – will often find themselves without a signal in large parts of the Highlands and Islands.

BT has implicitly accepted that fact by promising to remove no phone boxes from any of our islands in the immediate future.

Instead, the mainland suffers from the brunt of the attack. That is unfair to large parts of the west coast, which are as remote, inaccessible and devoid of a mobile signal as many of our islands.

BT should listen to the protests from Killilan, Achmore, Stromeferry, Strathkanaid, and 50 other places, and spare their public phone boxes from the axe.

Main article by Michael Russell.