Plea to secure phone box '˜heritage' as 950 face axe

The prospect of almost 1,000 phone boxes being axed across Scotland has prompted concerns among MSPs at Holyrood about the impact on people living in remote areas.
A red phone box in Bearsden Cross. Picture: TSPL.A red phone box in Bearsden Cross. Picture: TSPL.
A red phone box in Bearsden Cross. Picture: TSPL.

More than 90 per cent of Scots now own a mobile phone and their increased usage has seen a dramatic fall in the use of the traditional telephone box over the past decade.

It has prompted telecoms giant BT to propose axing about 950 kiosks, about one in five of these remaining in Scotland.

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The issue came under the spotlight at Holyrood where Nationalist MSP Kenneth Gibson, who represents the Cunninghame North constituency, called on MSPs to back an “Adopt a Kiosk” scheme which allows councils and other local community bodies to take over phone boxes which have been earmarked for the axe.

He said the removal plans could be felt more acutely in remote regions.

“I was immediately concerned about the impact this would have on my constituents,” he said.

“This concern is of particular relevance to those living on Scotland’s islands, such as Arran and Cumbrae, where mobile coverage can be extremely poor, thus increasing isolation for island residents.”

BT’s plans have been watered down from the original proposals to remove up to 1,500 phone boxes and the MSP backed the firm’s “willingness to engage” with communities, including a pledge not to remove payphones on islands where there is an “unreliable, weak or even non-existent ­signal”.

They will also be retained where a “social need” has been identified such as accident blackspots and suicide hotspots where they may prove life-saving.

Rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing told MSPs that the telephone box is “a very attractive piece of heritage”.

He added: “It’s nice thing to see around the place. It’s part of history – it would be very sad if they all disappeared.”

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Their removal in some locations won’t be appropriate, he said, and offered to raise the issue with councils.

Conservative West Scotland MSP Jamie Green said: “It’s essential that any changes to payphones do not hinder the important community needs of a call box, such as access to emergency services, but more importantly in areas where there is no other means of contacting people where there’s poor mobile coverage.”