Council calling for Hawick payphones to be spared from axe

Hawick-based MSP John Lamont at the Ashkirk phone box, just off the A7.
Hawick-based MSP John Lamont at the Ashkirk phone box, just off the A7.

Telecommunications giant BT is being urged to remove all four of Hawick’s telephone boxes from a list of payphones facing the axe.

Scottish Borders Council yesterday agreed, at its latest full council meeting, to ask BT to spare all but a handful of the 100-plus call boxes in the Borders under threat as part of a nationwide review.

That plea for a reprieve follows BT’s announcement in August that the future of all 104 of its phone boxes in the Borders is under review.

Many of the call boxes BT wants to remove haven’t been used at all in the past year, but all of Hawick’s have, one of them more than 100 times.

Silverbuthall Road’s box was used seven times, Rosebank Road’s 31 times, Oliver Park’s 16 times and North Bridge Street’s on 129 occasions.

Others nearby were less popular, however, with the call box at Bonchester Bridge have only made one call and another at nearby Chesters none at all.

A report by the council’s emergency planning officer, Jim Fraser, to yesterday’s meeting, successfully called on elected members to object to all but a handful of the proposed closures and to demand retention of the others, even those that have not been used by the public in the past year.

Mr Fraser said: “The approach being taken by BT is based solely on costs, and it is evident that the savings from the closure of these payphones will be marginal in terms of the overall costs of its business.

“Due to the insufficient mobile phone coverage which currently exists in the Borders, during the storms of late 2015 and early 2016, BT public payphones were the sole method of communication in some of our more rural communities to report issues such as trees down and roads blocked.

“The BT landline telephone infrastructure offers the best resilience in any emergency.”

The lack of a mobile phone signal in rural parts of the Borders was frequently cited in the feedback from community councils, along with geographical isolation, the use of payphones to contact emergency services and the fact that some older people had neither landlines nor mobile phones.

In its dissenting response to BT, the council will also encourage the company to work more closely with local communities on the use of payphones.

“This might lead to communities supporting the cleaning and painting of them and public payphones being better promoted and valued,” stated Mr Fraser.

The only five phones that the council agrees should be removed are at Simprims Farm near Coldstream, Makerstoun near Kelso, Longnewtown near Newtown St Boswells, Polwarth and Lanton.