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BT has proposed to close hundreds of Kent's phone boxes

By Katie Davis

More than 400 pay phones around the county could disappear as BT rings the changes.

The telecoms giant has proposed around 430 phone box closures to local authorities, after usage declined by more than 90% in the last decade. 

With the rise of the mobile phone and 93% of adults now owning one, it seems the need for phone boxes has been put on hold.

Professor Tim Luckhurst, a historian at the University of Kent, said: "They've gone downhill because we've all got mobile phones, none of us need to use them for their original purpose.

The red phone-box has become a tourist favourite. Picture GettyImages

The red phone-box has become a tourist favourite. Picture: GettyImages

"We don't nip into a phone box to make a phone call, people often nip into them to do something a lot less pleasant these days.

"But the truth is they look wonderful and we know tourists love them - if you go up to Covent Garden in London there's a whole row of them preserved, simply because people like taking photographs in front of them. They're Britain - they matter." 

BT payphones in Ashford town centre. Picture Josie Hannett

BT payphones in Ashford town centre. Picture: Josie Hannett

Despite this, we could see some phone boxes disappearing from our streets fairly soon.

A BT spokesperson said: “BT is carrying out an ongoing review of pay phones which we believe are no longer needed.

"None of these pay phones will be removed without the consent of the local authority.

“Any removal of pay phones is carried out in strict adherence to the Ofcom guidelines and, where appropriate, with the consent of local authorities.

Phone-box. Picture GettyImages

Phone box. Picture: GettyImages

"BT is committed to providing a public pay phone service, but with usage declining... we’ve continued to review and remove payphones which are no longer needed.

"In all instances where there’s no other payphone within 400 metres, we’ll ask for consent from the local authority to remove the payphone.

"Where we receive objections from the local authority, we won’t remove the payphone."

But many are seeing red over the proposed mass closure.
The modern phone-box in Tufton Street, Ashford. Picture Josie Hannett

The modern phone box in Tufton Street, Ashford. Picture: Josie Hannett

Graham Wanstall, a campaigner from Dover who has been battling to save the K6 jubilee phone boxes, said: “I have campaigned to save these tremendous telephone boxes more than 25 years.
“I want to save the best of the iconic K6 boxes in the appropriate locations.
“I would ask people if they want to keep their phone boxes then the best way to do so is to use the. It’s just 60p for a 30 minute chat!”

There are 1,165 payphones currently in Kent, meaning more than a third are at risk.

Suggested phone-box removals across Kent by area

Suggested phone box removals across Kent by area

The traditional phone box has long been part of the country's history and a tourist favourite.

Tim Luckhurst said: "It's a sad thought (that more than 400 may be scrapped) because they're part of British culture, we can tell that from the way they're still used in films.

"For example, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and his friends go down to the Ministry of Magic in an elevator that's made out of one of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's red telephone boxes.


Use of payphones has declined by 90%. Picture Wayne McCabe

Use of payphones has declined by 90%. Picture: Wayne McCabe

"They appear all over the place - The Beatles used them in their first film A Hard Day's Night in the opening sequence."  

To lower the number of phone box removals, BT introduced its Adopt a Kiosk scheme in 2008, in response to requests from local councils and residents.

It allows a community to retain their local red BT phone box, with the pay phone taken out, by buying the kiosk from the company for just £1.

More than 2,000 kiosks have been adopted in the UK.

BT have proposed to remove phone-boxes county wide

BT have proposed to remove phone boxes county wide

The BT spokesperson said: “As an alternative to removal, we will continue to actively promote the Adopt a Kiosk scheme to all councils whilst being committed to maintaining the payphones that remain.”

In April 2012, BT began selling its surplus old red phone boxes for the first time in more than 25 years.

The company teamed up with kiosk and payphone specialist X2 Connect to sell K6 or Jubilee red phone boxes.

BT last sold red boxes direct to the public in the mid 1980’s when thousands of old K6s were sold off at public auctions as part of an extensive payphone modernisation programme.

Tim Luckhurst explained some of the history behind the classic phone box: "The iconic red phone box that we all know and love is the product of a competition that was run by the general post office in 1923.

"The winner was an architect called Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who designed that wonderful red telephone box.

"He was a really famous modernist architect, he also built Battersea power station and Liverpool Cathedral - so he wasn't just good at phone boxes!" 

Mobile phones are behind the decline of phone-box usage. Stock image

Mobile phones are behind the decline of phone-box usage. Stock image

"We're not preserving them because people need them these days, we've all got mobile phones in our pockets, and that's great but we should remember that our history means a lot.
"It means a lot particularly to tourists, and Kent has a fantastic tourist industry.
"We should make sure that we still look a little like the traditional England that our visitors want to see." 

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