Campaigners in parts of remotest North Yorkshire say plans to axe dozens of payphones are just another “nail in the coffin” for rural communities.
As revealed by The Yorkshire Post earlier this month, BT is currently consulting on proposals to remove 1,023 - a third - of its payphones across the county.
A dramatic 90 per cent drop in usage has been cited by the communications company, as has an increased number of people using mobile phones. But now, communities in the Upper Dales, including the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP), have stepped up the fight to oppose the plans amid fears they will be left isolated and vulnerable.
“Until we get good mobile phone signal - or signal of any sort in some areas - we need these phone boxes as a lifeline,” said Coun Richard Beal, ward member for Reeth and Arkengarthdale. “It’s a vital service, when you haven’t got anything else.
“We can’t afford to lose these. We suffer from poor access to transport, bus services, and diminishing hospital services. Young people are being put off moving to the area - the infrastructure is just disappearing.”
There are 3,175 payphones across Yorkshire and the Humber, with 227 in West Yorkshire under threat, 447 in North Yorkshire and 199 in South Yorkshire.
Some haven’t been used at all in the past year, BT has said, while those with high maintenance costs in an area with other options are available also under consultation. BT has stressed it is not looking to remove any kiosks from areas with no mobile coverage, and has also said it will not remove any where there is an objection from the local authority.
But community leaders have said they are deeply concerned about the impact on rural communities, and are urging residents to contact local councils.
“If we’re not careful, all public services will be lost in deeply rural areas,” said County Coun John Blackie (Ind, Upper Dales), revealing that 21 out of Richmondshire’s 27 phone boxes are under threat.
“There’s no reason for young families to stay. We’re fighting for our hospital, the broadband is patchy, mobile coverage is distinctly patchy. Now they are talking about taking away the phones.
“One by one, the banks closed in Hawes, with just one now open three days a week. The cash machine has been broken for seven days. Services are being taken away on the grounds of cost cutting, of austerity. We are losing families by the score, the school roster is dropping.
“This is just another nail in the coffin of a deeply rural way of life.”
Officers at the YDNP, with 56 payphones under threat, have written to BT to object to the proposals, criticising the “overly simplistic and flawed” criteria for closure.
Planning policy officer Thomas Harland, revealing that they are now to approach Historic England to see if the park’s remaining K6 boxes can be listed for their heritage value, said the authority would like to see all payphones retained and objected to the proposals in their entirety.
A BT spokesman said: “We are not looking to remove any kiosks from areas with no mobile coverage. We will not remove any of the payphones under consultation where we receive an objection from the local authority.
“The consultation is an opportunity for local people to tell us via the local authority which payphones are still needed and which are not.”