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Argyll and Bute councillors are set to object to plans for the removal of 55 public phone boxes across the council area – even though many of them are hardly, if ever, used.
Communications giant BT wants to remove 67 phone boxes in various locations throughout Argyll and Bute.
But a report to Argyll and Bute Council’s planning, protective services and licensing (PPSL) committee says that agreement has been reached for the removal of only 10 of the phone boxes on BT’s list.
Four of the 10 agreed for removal are in Lochgilphead and two are in Rothesay. The others are in Ardrishaig, Bridge of Orchy, Dalmally and Taynuilt.
Community councils in several areas have lodged objections to BT’s proposals.
However, the report to the PPSL – which meets on Wednesday, January 20 – also says that the reason for some of the local authority’s 55 proposed objections is that Argyll and Bute officials have been unable to contact the relevant community councils in the affected areas.
In those circumstances, the report says, the committee should object to the proposed removal.
Two other phone boxes, at Kingarth on Bute and Bridgend on Islay, are set to be ‘adopted’, meaning that the community will be responsible for maintenance.
Many of the phone boxes are listed as having zero average calls per month. The highest number of average calls per month for any of the 67 listed for removal is eight – for one in Lochgilphead that is set to be axed.
Council executive director Kirsty Flanagan said in her report: ‘This original consultation which was promoted by BT was due to finish at the end of 2020.
‘However, the current Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing restrictions have resulted in many community councils being unable to meet to discuss community matters.
‘Officers liaised with BT and an updated version was provided and agreement was reached to extend the period of the consultation until January 2021.
‘Due to the delays and the public gathering restrictions it was decided that the best course of action would be to for officers to make contact with relevant community councils by phone and discuss the proposals.
‘This was well received by the people that could be contacted.
‘Given that a number of community councils could not be contacted within the period of the consultation, it is suggested that in order to allow comments to be received from these communities, the council objects to any that have not received a response.
‘This approach will mean that BT will include those phone boxes that have received objections in the next round of consultation processes.’
Ms Flanagan added: ‘Overall use of payphones has declined by over 90 per cent in the last decade and the need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is diminishing all the time, with at least 98 per cent 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 no credit or no coverage, from your own mobile provider.
‘BT have also asked the council to consider the recent Ofcom affordability report which found that most consumers do not view payphones as essential for most consumers in most circumstances.
‘The consultation process is relatively simple: they are asking local communities if they wish to agree/object to the removal of the box, or if the wish is to adopt the telephone box for an alternative use.
‘If they wish to adopt the telephone box they need pay £1 and provide a contact email address.
‘There have been a number of communities across the area that have already been through the adoption process and have used these to hold defibrillators, small libraries, cake shops or general public information hubs.’