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October 10, 2012

Save our box

The mobile phone has all but rendered the telephone box a thing of the past.  The last time anyone from the tiny community of Kilmuir on the Black Isle fished a coin out their pocket to make a call was over three years ago. Seems reasonable then that BT should decide to call time on last century’s technology.  A lorry and crane were duly dispatched to remove the box only to be confronted by a blockade of cars. Who’d have thought phone boxes could excite such passion.


David Ross, The Herald

A TINY Scottish community is celebrating after beating BT’s attempts to remove its solitary red phone box – which has had no calls made from it for three years – by barricading it with their cars.

Villagers in Kilmuir on the Black Isle launched the campaign of direct action on the day the communications giant sent a lorry and crane to remove the old-fashioned box from its picturesque location within sight of the Kessock Bridge. In a rare triumph for people power, locals will now pay BT £1 to adopt the box. 

The victory came after the lorry driver sent by BT found a fleet of cars parked around the phone box. He sought the advice of his managers and beat a tactical retreat.  Local resident John Hill, 68, said it showed the strength of feeling about the local landmark, despite the fact mobile phones have made it all but redundant.

He said: “We knew no calls were being made from it. But the phone box was an important landmark and the notice about it being removed was put in the box where nobody could see it. It also said there was another box 400 metres away, which there isn’t – it’s three miles. But now we hear that BT will let us adopt it for £1. We are just awaiting confirmation and we will then come up with some ideas of what we will do with it.” 

BT said the community, with a population of less than 100, could have adopted the box three years ago.  A spokesman said: “No phone calls have been made from the Kilmuir kiosk in the past three years and we told Highland Council as far back as 2008 we were planning to remove it and no objection was received. A year later we put a hold on the removal of all red boxes as we launched our well-publicised Adopt-a-Kiosk campaign, giving local communities the opportunity to pay £1 to retain their red box and protect their heritage.”

He said BT recognised the red boxes were “British design icons” and people loved them. He added: “That’s exactly why we set up this scheme. But no adoption request was ever received for this particular box so we sanctioned its removal.

“We also posted a notice in the payphone asking people to get in touch with the council if they had any objections to its removal but none were received within the 90-day consultation period.”

He said that now the residents of Kilmuir had made their feelings clear, BT was happy to discuss adoption. “We have spoken to both Highland Council and their local councillor this morning.”

Around 150 red boxes have already been adopted by local communities in Scotland, with many becoming a focal point in villages for all sorts of imaginative activities. 

The spokesman said: “Our payphone network has shrunk over many years as mobile phone use has escalated. Calls have declined by more than 80% in the last five years and continue to decline at more than 20% year on year. Currently, around 100,000 calls are made per day across the UK, and just 3% of adults used a payphone in the last month.”

BT had 5900 payphones in Scotland five years ago; today, it has about 5250.