BT to be urged to spare scores of call boxes under threat

Ashkirk phonebox on the closure list

Ashkirk phonebox on the closure list

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Plans by telecommunications giant BT to axe all its public payphones in the region will be opposed by Scottish Borders Council today.

In August, the company revealed its intentions to remove the Borders’ 104 call boxes as part of a cost-cutting drive, but it offered to spare any if their survival could be justified.

A report by emergency planning officer Jim Fraser to today’s full council meeting will call on elected members to object to all but three of the proposed closures and to demand retention of the others – even those that have not been used by the public at all in the past year.

Mr Fraser states: “The approach being taken by BT is based solely on costs, and it is evident that the savings from the closure of these payphones will be marginal in terms of the overall costs of its business.

“Due to the insufficient mobile phone coverage which currently exists in the Borders, during the storms of late 2015 and early 2016, BT public payphones were the sole method of communication in some of our more rural communities to report issues such as trees down and roads blocked.

“The BT landline telephone infrastructure offers the best resilience in any emergency.”

The lack of a mobile phone signal in rural parts of the Borders was frequently cited in feedback from community councils, along with geographical isolation, the use of payphones to contact emergency services and the fact that some older people had neither landlines nor mobile phones.

The only three boxes that local communities and the council agree should be removed are at Simprims Farm, near Coldstream; Makerstoun, near Kelso, and Longnewtown, near Newtown St Boswells.

Among those it wants spared are ones in Selkirk, Hawick, Galashiels, Fountainhall and Ettrick.

In the central Borders, the payphones which SBC wants retained are as follows (number of calls made from each in past year in brackets): Huddersfield Street (83), Larchbank Street (7), Magdala Terrace (25), Balmoral Road (7), Tweed Road/Abbotsford Road (0), all in Galashiels; Raeburn Meadow (6) and Scotts Place (36) in Selkirk; Stow (20), Fountainhall (14), Ashkirk (6), Glen Café at St Mary’s Loch (35), Ettrickbridge (80), Ettrick (32), Yarrowford (8), Newstead (4), Gattonside (1), Darnick (0) and Edinburgh Road layby near Lauder (18).

In Peeblesshire the threatened facilities are at Walkerburn (3), Hall Street (20) and Ballantyne Street (14), Innerleithen, Horsburgh Ford (0), Eddleston (6), Stobo (1), Kirkton Manor (2), Blyth Bridge (8), Romanno Bridge (0), Skirling (0) and Broughton (44).