Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Highland Council reports BT to regulator over payphone removal consultations

Peter Small, owner of the Tomich Hotel in the adjacent red telephone box, targeted for closure in 2019. Picture by Sandy McCook.
Peter Small, owner of the Tomich Hotel in the adjacent red telephone box, targeted for closure in 2019. Picture by Sandy McCook.

The threatened removal of more than 100 payphones across the Highlands has prompted the council to complain to the communications regulator about BT.

Officials have accused the telecoms giant of ‘disappointing and ill-considered’ proposals and says it is disregarding attempts to save them.

Highlanders fight to save more than half the payphones on a BT hit list for removal

Consultations have been going on for the past two years, including a two-phase consultation this year in which the council received 296 representations from community councils, local groups and individuals.

All but two of the responses highlighted serious concerns about the detrimental impact of BT’s proposals on communities.

A report due to go before councillors at next week’s full council meeting states: “The timing of BT’s proposals is extremely disappointing and ill-considered as it has required the council to consult with community and public sector partners who are largely preoccupied with community response and resilience work related to Covid-19.

“This is an inappropriate use of stretched public sector resource and an added unnecessary concern for communities at a time of national crisis.”

The report also points out that 52 of the call boxes in the 2020 consultation were already consulted on last year, including 46 payphones whose removal the council had vetoed based on community representation.

The reports authors add: “BT is therefore seeking to disregard 84% of these recent vetoes on removal.

“This is in contravention of OfCom requirements that BT must first request a review of such decisions by the council and OfCom, should it wish to disregard them.”

Calls to protect public payphones in the Highlands


The report accuses BT of disregard for its own public service obligation in its proposal to remove all public call boxes from certain areas, including Alness with its higher than average levels of deprivation, and the entire Badenoch and Strathspey ward, with its hillwalkers and tourists depending on call boxes in emergencies.

Badenoch & Strathspey councillor Bill Lobban said all the remaining payphones are needed and should remain.

“BT will keep on trying to close them, thinking eventually we’ll make a mistake and they’ll succeed, but there are very strong feelings here.

“There are many areas where there is simply no reception and if you’re stuck in a hollow with the snow coming down you can trudge to the red box to summon help.

“If it’s not there, BT is quite simply endangering lives.”

A majority of Skye call boxes have also been targeted for removal, with the report describing this as “questionable, given the remote rural geography of that community”.

BT says there has been a 90% decline in payphone use over the past decade and there is either 3G or 4G coverage over the UK with the ability to roam across networks and call emergency services even without credit or coverage from your own mobile provider.

Yesterday it did hold out a glimmer of hope to the council – but that may come at a cost.

A spokesman said: “If the authority tells us that it would like to keep particular payphones, or adopt them, they will remain.

“We’ve investigated and in this case, like in all consultations, we have followed Ofcom’s guidelines.

“We’ve gone further and had regular dialogue with Highland Council officials from before the consultation started to ensure they were aware of our proposals and rationale, as well as answering any concerns.

“We will review any feedback from communities and continue to liaise with the council.”

Already a subscriber? Sign in