Numbers could soon be up for payphones across Borders

Dozens of public payphones’ numbers could be up across the Borders as BT bosses draw up plans to axe those used the least.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 9:23 am
Hawick councillor Davie Paterson at one of the town's phone boxes, opposite Oliver Place.

The futures of 95 payphones across the region have come under scrutiny as part of a consultation by Scottish Borders Council.

The council is recommending that 11 only rarely used should be removed, two should be adopted by the communities they serve and that the remaining 82 stay in place.

A decision from BT on whether it will heed that recommendation is expected soon.

The telecommunications giant is also consulting over plans to close a further 17 phoneboxes across our region, and a decision on their fate is expected in spring or early summer.

The Borders callboxes potentially facing the axe are among 650 earmarked for removal nationwide – about 20% of those left at present.

As part of a consultation process over the proposed closures, Scottish Borders Council and community councils across the region have again been invited to make recommendations on which phones they think should stay and which should go.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall is one of those consulted still convinced there is a case for the retention of many of the under-threat kiosks.

He said: “There is a strong case to be made to retain the ones in Princes Street and Roxburghe Drive in Hawick given that there have been so many emergency calls that have come from them during the past year.

“I also intend raising the matter of the future of the kiosk at Kenilworth Avenue at the next meeting of Burnfoot Community Council.

“It’s all very well BT coming up with these plans, but before any final decision is taken, I think there has to be extensive consultation.

“Not everyone in my ward has instant access to mobile coverage and people feel much safer knowing that there is such an important lifeline at the end of the road.”

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine is also concerned about the loss of phoneboxes relied on by those without access to mobiles.

He said: “I am against the closing of these telephone boxes due to the fact that not everyone has a mobile or house phone.

“It may also be essential for people to use these boxes in an emergency.

“I would encourage BT to keep them in these areas as it is important that we do not drive closure for closure’s sake.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson, however, believes more remote locations have a stronger case for keeping their phones, even if they are little used.

He said: “It’s sad that they are getting taken away, but unfortunately they are not being used because so many people have mobile phones now. It’s changing times.

“Many of them are being vandalised too.

“It’s bad enough in the towns, but if you lose one in rural areas, like Newcastleton, it’s worse because you can’t get mobile phone coverage.”

A council spokesperson said: “We are waiting to hear from BT regarding the first consultation, but it is hoped they will be satisfied with our response.

“A second consultation on a further 17 public payphones in the Borders has now been launched by BT.

“We are currently forming our response which includes consultations with community councils, with our final response expected to be discussed at a full council meeting in the coming months.”

The latest payphones under threat are those in High Street and Beach Avenue in Eyemouth; Coldstream High Street; Marmion Road and Marmion Drive in Galashiels; Priors Walk in Melrose; Earlston Square; Glebe Park and South Street in Duns; Silverbuthall Road, Roxburghe Drive, Princes Street, North Bridge Street and Kenilworth Avenue in Hawick; Edinburgh Road in Peebles; Bowden Road in Newtown; and Bourtrees at Jedburgh.

A spokesperson for BT said: “Most people now have a mobile phone and calls made from our public telephones have fallen by around 90% in the past decade.

“We consider a number of factors before consulting on the removal of payphones, including whether others are available nearby and usage.

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

“This is important because as long as there is network coverage, it’s now possible to call the emergency services, even when there is

BT has pledged to retain any payphone used at least 12 times a year if it serves a population of less than 500 and is the only one within 800 metres.

As part of the consultation ongoing for another two months, communities have been given the chance to adopt phoneboxes for £1, and nearly 400 have been saved that way nationwide for use as libraries, defibrillator stations and even, in one case, a mini-disco.

The 11 phoneboxes among the original 95 earmarked for the axe that the council isn’t objecting to being removed include those at Oliver Park in Hawick; Poynder Place, Inchmead Crescent and the Linn in Kelso; Eden Road in Gordon; Blyth Farm Road at West Linton; Balmoral Road and

Larchbank Street in Galashiels; and Dreva Road in Broughton.

The two phones recommended for adoption by their communities are those in Lempitlaw Road in Kelso and at Ancrum.