Global Economics

Save a Red Phone Booth for One Pound


To quell outcry over the disappearance of Britain's iconic phone boxes, BT will let towns buy them for a token sum--with phones removed

A plan has been hatched that could save iconic red BT phone boxes for as little as a quid—or just 1.3 per cent of the cost of installing a BT landline in your home.

A spokeswoman for the telco said some 12,000 red phone boxes remain in the UK, with more than a third—around 4,500—under threat of closure.

Back in June BT warned more public call boxes would have to close as usage continues to slide—though at the time a spokesman told silicon.com he could not specify the number of red phone boxes under threat, adding that the company is "colour-agnostic" when it comes to such matters.

But it seems BT is not colour blind after all as it has now bowed to pressure from local authorities keen to keep threatened call boxes and created two schemes whereby councils can ensure beloved boxes do not vanish.

A BT spokeswoman said both schemes were hatched during the consultation process for the latest round of call box closures. For that process, the telco undertook to write to all affected local authorities to test the water about closing 14 per cent of its remaining estate of call boxes—or around 8,700 out of some 62,000 street payphones.

Under a scheme called 'Adopt a kiosk', the spokeswoman said local authorities that wish to keep a threatened red phone box—but not as a working telephone—will be able to keep the box by paying a token £1 fee, "for legal reasons". This scheme applies specifically to red phone boxes only.

The phone equipment will be removed and ownership of the box will be transferred to the council to do whatsoever they wish.

The spokeswoman said: "During [the recent consultation] we had a number of requests from local authorities that basically offered a couple of solutions to allow them to keep their telephone boxes. For those local authorities that acknowledged that their red pay phone really isn't being used for making calls anymore, but it's a British cultural icon and they'd very much like to keep it for aesthetic reasons, BT's agreed they can keep the box but full ownership of the kiosk is transferred to the local authority.

"It's for those guys that liked the look of their pretty red telephone box on the village green."

For councils that want to keep a threatened BT pay phone, red or otherwise, the telco has devised a scheme called 'Sponsor a kiosk'—whereby, for an annual fee of £500, BT won't remove the call box and will also maintain a full working phone service.

The spokeswoman explained: "During the consultation process local authorities came to us and said look we'd actually be prepared to help contribute to the running costs of the pay phone."

Asked how many red phone boxes are likely to be saved as a result of the two schemes, the spokeswoman said the telco does not yet know. "Letters only went out to local authorities yesterday and Wednesday."

Conservative MP, Alan Duncan, who describes himself as a campaigner for "Britain's traditional streetscape", said in a statement on his website: "I'm delighted that BT has agreed to what was always a perfectly simple proposal to ensure that red phone boxes do not disappear into the great grey blur of the modern British streetscape."

Provided by silicon.com—Driving Business Through Technology

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