Phone boxes have been a familiar sight on our high streets for decades – but the advent of the mobile phone has made many of them obsolete.
Now a Blackpool councillor is questioning whether some payphone kiosks are in fact detrimental to the communities they are meant to serve and so should be removed.
Squires Gate representative Coun Alistair Humphreys says some are a magnet for anti-social behaviour or even crime, such as drug dealing.
He fears others are just a place for disreputable premises to advertise their services, while some booths have deteriorated to become eyesores.
Now he is calling on Blackpool Council to take an official stance on the issue by asking for pressure to be put on BT to review its criteria for the removal of some phone boxes.
Coun Humphreys has submitted a notice of motion to tomorrow’s meeting of the full council saying while some phone boxes are a community asset, others ‘can also be a source and cause of crime and anti-social behaviour particularly drug dealing’.
His motion adds the council should therefore call upon British Telecom ‘to review its criteria for the removal of telephone boxes to take into account such crime and anti-social behaviour issues evidenced by responsible authorities’.
It goes on to say: “The council therefore asks the chief executive to write to the Home Secretary to request that the council’s concerns be raised with telephone box providers.”
Councillors will debate the issue tomorrow before deciding whether or not they agree to go forward with the call.
But Coun Humphreys says he believes it is a town-wide problem.
He said: “In my ward there was a particular problem with a phone box on Harrowside but BT have since cleaned it up.
“But in investigating this, I found many phone boxes are just magnets for anti-social behaviour with young people crowding into them, or drug dealers using them.
“Some are used to advertise brothels and massage parlours.
“I agree that in some remote places phone boxes are needed in case an emergency call needs to be made, but in built-up areas they are used less and less.
“I think BT should be held to account in relation to some of the things their phone boxes are being used for, and also if they are unsightly.”
BT says use of phone boxes has declined by more than 90 per cent in the last decade but any removal of payphones can only be done in line with current guidelines. It urges people to report any unsightly or damaged boxes but says removing them will not reduce anti-social behaviour.
A BT spokesman said: “BT is committed to providing a public payphone service, but with usage declining by over 90 per cent in the last decade, we’ve continued to review and remove payphones which are no longer needed.
“Any removal of payphones is carried out in strict adherence to the Ofcom guidelines and, where appropriate, with the consent of local authorities.
“We will repair any damage to the payphones.
“Removing them will not stop people behaving anti-socially, the problems will just move elsewhere.
“Anti-social behaviour is a matter for the police. Damage to any of our payphones can be reported by calling our Freephone number 0800 661 610.”
The decline of the phone box
In 1992 at their peak before mobile phones became popular, there were 92,000 phone boxes in the UK.
But now there are only around 40,000 remaining in the UK with BT set to scrap many more as usage declines further.
The cost of maintaining telephone boxes annually is about £6m.
BT is responsible for repairing damage to the kiosks, including replacing glass panes and broken receivers, as well as removing graffiti, rubbish and human waste.
However, phone booths are still used by children, the elderly, people who cannot afford mobile phones, and in emergencies when mobile phone batteries go flat.
To remove a phone booth, Ofcom rules state BT must inform the public and consult with the local authorities.
In some areas alternative uses have been found for kiosks, such as compact coffee
In other places, communities have adopted their local phone box, preserving the booths by buying them for £1 from BT
under the Adopt a Kiosk scheme.
The idea of ditching the once-popular public phone box received mixed views from Gazette readers.
Reactions ranged from acceptance of the fact modern technology means the boxes simply aren’t as useful as they once were, to questioning whether this is really the best way of tackling problems with anti-social behaviour.
And some were quick to think of alternative uses for the phone boxes if they are no longer needed for their original purpose...
Here are a few of the responses on the website and on social media:
Robert Walker: “Why not get rid of the people abusing them instead?”
Carol Harrison: “Why not? Nearly everything else has gone.”
Colin Thomas: “Why not ‘remove’ the people responsible for the anti-social behaviour instead?”
Tony Collier: “That would be a much better idea. Mobile phones have no doubt been the reason for the demise of phone boxes.”
John Mailey: “Need cleaning up and leaving where they are.”
Joni Stevenson: “No - Clean them up and leave them alone.
“I could name quite a few things I’d like to get rid of!”
Chris D Currie: “How do I go about purchasing an old telephone box?”
Josephine Mitchell: “I would love one in my garden.”
Jason McKay: “I’d like to see people looking where they walk and not at their mobile phones.”
Karl Conlon-Parr: “In Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds they’ve converted theirs to a defibrillator point. Maybe we should do this in Blackpool too? Why not have several different uses for each one? Tourist Information leaflet point, Blackpool Transport timetable and ticket machine, cashpoint machine, a shelter with a seat for when it’s raining, a drinking water or vending machine?
“There are many alternatives if we innovate.”
‘Filthy and disgusting’
Business owners have previously complained about phone boxes in Blackpool being used as urinals and rubbish tips.
In 2016 club owners Mike and Mark Nordwind criticised the state of phone boxes outside their new venue in Talbot Square.
Mike, whose family had invested £1.6m in transforming the former Rumours club into Home, said the boxes were being used as public toilets.
He said: “They are the most filthy, disgusting things you have seen and they need fumigating and doing up.”
The phone boxes are Grade II listed so could not be moved but BT pledged to clean them up. In 2013, John Baron, of West Coast Motors, also highlighted a phone box outside his premises on Preston Old Road in Marton which had become an eyesore.
He said people were using it as a urinal, rubbish was being tipped in it and the phone box door had been broken off.
Currently a neglected looking phone box stands outside Marton Institute in Oxford Square which is badly in need of a fresh coat of paint.