Nearly 100 Borders public payphones under threat

Councillor Harry Scott hopes people get involved in the consultation on phone boxes in the Borders.
Councillor Harry Scott hopes people get involved in the consultation on phone boxes in the Borders.

Telecommunications giant BT is looking to remove almost 100 of its public payphones in the Borders.

Usage of public payphones has fallen dramatically since the advent of mobile phone technology, and the increased coverage of mobile networks into rural areas.

And BT has writted to Scottish Borders Council, listing 95 payphones which it is looking at decommissioning. Some of those on the list have already had the phones removed, such as the one in Tweed Road, Galashiels.

The council has, in turn, passed the information on to community councils, to put in place consultation on the matter, which ends on October 14.

However, as many community councils in the region are on a summer break until September, time is limited for making objections.

A council spokesperson said: “We have written out to all relevant community councils to ask for their views and a formal SBC consultation response will be prepared based on those responses and our own assessment of the BT proposals.

“That should come to committee/council for approval ahead of the BT consultation date closure in mid-October, after which any comments submitted to BT will not be considered.

In the letter to community councils, chief executive Tracey Logan writes: “Please take part in this consultation as it may affect your locality.

“Comments, detailing any reasons for objections, should be e-mailed to no later than Friday, September 13, so that a co-ordinated SBC response can be submitted before the October 14 deadline.”

Galashiels councillor Harry Scott was keen to get the consultation up and running, posting the Galashiels and Stow boxes proposed for removal on his social media page,

He told us: “It is an unfortunate time to do this [with the community councils on a break], but it’s important that people are aware of this.

“If I am honest about it, I haven’t used a phone box for years, but I would worry about the ones in remote areas.”

The last time BT tried to close public payphones in the Borders, in 2016, the council “responded robustly” to the proposals, citing the fact that they were still used in emergencies, when other forms of communication are rendered unusable due to power outages.

In choosing which phones are marked for removal and which ones will remain in operation, BT has used over-riding criteria agreed with regulator Ofcom, pledging to retain boxes in locations where there is either: no mobile coverage; a suicide hotspot; an accident blackspot or a coastal location.

BT has then used a “reasonable needs” criteria, which needs all of the following to retain the box: where the box is the only one within 800m; there are 500 households within 1km; and at least 12 calls have been made from the phone within the last 12 months.

However, there are several phones on the list which have been used more than the 12 times stipulated by BT, including the one in Bourtree Place, Hawick, which has been used 297 times in the last 12 months.

Phones in Selkirk on the list also have relatively high usage, such as Scotts Place (96 calls), Bleachfield Road (53), Heatherlie Terrace (44) and Linglie Road (74).

Several of the boxes in rural areas have been used far less than in the previous list in 2016 ... some not at all.

However, BT has listed phone boxes which have no phones in, so it is not surprising that no calls had been made from them.

The removal of the phone service does not neccesarily mean the removal of the box.

BT has offered to pass on the boxes for £1 to community groups to ‘adopt’.

Recently, these have been taken on and used as art galleries or handy places to house defibrillator kits in some areas of the Borders.