19/09/2023 - Permalink

BT consultation on plans to remove 19 payphones in Shropshire: views sought

Related topics: Community / Partner organisations

Shropshire Council is seeking feedback from parish councils, town councils, other interested bodies and the public, in its capacity as the Relevant Public Body, with regard to proposed removals by BT of 19 public call boxes (PCBs) payphones in the county. These payphones are a mix of traditional style red K6 kiosks and modern style KX100 kiosks.

The council no longer has the power of veto over removals, following changes made by Ofcom to the Universal Service Obligation placed upon BT and KCOM, which came into effect in June 2022. Ofcom have instead replaced the local veto with a set of criteria to assess reasonable user needs prior to the removal of a ‘last at a site’ PCB.

The Ofcom criteria sets out to protect last at a site PCBs where:-

  • they do not have coverage from all four mobile network providers; or
  • they are located in an area with a high frequency of accidents or suicides; or
  • they have made 52 or more calls over the past 12 months (ie the equivalent of one call per week); or
  • there is other evidence of a reasonable need for the PCB.

iconic red BT phone box

Cecilia Motley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for adult social care, public health and communities, said:-

“Consultation on this proposed removal by BT of 19 payphones in the county runs through to 28 November. The payphones listing includes details by BT of mobile phone coverage across four networks, usage in the last 12 months, and whether or not in their view the payphone is needed for helplines or is in a high accident or suicide risk area, according to their national knowledge.

“What they do not have is local evidence of other reasonable need, which may include factors such as whether the payphone is in an area at risk of flooding, or local knowledge to, for example, indicate a higher risk of accidents than has been identified by BT at this stage.

“Could I please invite parish councils and town councils, as representatives of their communities, any other interested bodies, and individuals within the communities affected, to send in their feedback, including whether it is considered that the Ofcom criteria has been met, along with any evidence of other reasonable need. We would like to know if communities consider that the payphones should be retained as working payphones, or adopted for community use, or removed as per BT proposals to do so. Modern style kiosks can only be adopted for defibrillator storage, whilst traditional style red K6 kiosks may be adopted for a range of community use.”

Feedback is invited via email to the named officer contact – lois.dale@shropshire.gov.uk – by 4pm on Monday 30 October 2023. This will allow officers time to collate the feedback before issuing draft views in each case week beginning Monday 6 November, allowing a final check through before collated views on all 19 are submitted to BT by Tuesday 28 November.

Parish councils and town councils who would like to take the opportunity to look into adoption of any other PCBs are also invited to make contact. Please note that PCB adoption cannot be made by individuals, and cannot take place if the criteria for removal is not met. For example, BT records may indicate that mobile phone coverage is not sufficient at a site, or that the PCB in question is the one that they have decided should remain as “last at a site”. Ofcom advises that “A site is defined as 400 metre walking distance from the next nearest PCB.” 

Further information

Ofcom has stated that it acknowledges that they received comments during consultation raising concerns about either too many, or too few, PCBs being removed but, overall, consider that their approach strikes an appropriate balance. In particular, the new criteria set out to ensure that PCBs that are still needed are retained to provide a safety net for those who rely on them, whilst also ensuring that PCBs that are not needed can be removed through a transparent and consistent process.

Where Shropshire Council does not hear back from a local community, we will consider all factors in the light of the revised Ofcom guidance. Whilst we no longer have the power of veto, we will act on behalf of our communities and their diverse needs in order to seek to ensure that, where we consider a case could or should be made for a kiosk to be retained, we will present our evidence accordingly. This is in no small part due to our situation as a large, rural, and sparsely populated county, with an ageing population, scattered locations of services and amenities, and mobile phone coverage issues for residents and visitors alike.

If BT and KCOM consider that a last at a site PCB is not protected by the criteria and they wish to remove that PCB, they must consult with the relevant public body for a period of 90 days by: – providing a written notice to the relevant public body setting out all the relevant evidence as against the criteria; and – publishing a prominent notice on the PCB with details of the consultation process.

Following the conclusion of the consultation process, BT or KCOM must notify the relevant public body of its decision, setting out written reasons for the decision, including how it has taken account of any submissions received. This decision must be published on BT or KCOM’s website at the same time as being notified to the public body.

The relevant public body has 21 days in which to request that BT or KCOM undertake a review of any removal decision. BT and KCOM must assess the merits of such requests and, when undertaking a review, must ensure it is carried out by a senior person who was not connected with the initial decision, and the outcome must be notified to the relevant public body as well as published on BT or KCOM’s website.

BT and KCOM can only remove a last at a site PCB after either: (a) the period for requesting a review has expired; or (b) where a review has been requested, once they have published the outcome of that review.

Ofcom carried out the consultation in November 2021 around proposed changes to the universal service obligation placed upon BT and KCOM. Shropshire Council was one of the 25 respondents to this consultation. The council has since sought to articulate our ongoing concerns that the changes may have negative consequences for our communities who live here and for those who visit here and work here.

This included concerns that the definition of a last at a site PCB did not account for other potential local factors such as geography and access to facilities.

In its response, Ofcom stated:- 

“We consider that our definition of a ‘site’ remains appropriate, and it sufficiently takes account of local geography given that it is based on a 400m walking distance from the PCB (as opposed to distance as the crow flies, which would not account for factors such as rivers or railways). We remain of the view that BT and KCOM should not be required to consult on removal of PCBs that are not the last at a site. If there is another PCB in the local area, then this should be sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of users. We also note that BT would have an incentive to retain those PCBs which have higher usage (e.g. because they are located near a transport hub) because such PCBs are more likely to be profitable. “

The PCB listing from BT, along with our response to the consultation and the Ofcom consultation report and other material from previous consultations, may be found on the Shropshire Council website at: https:/www.shropshire.gov.uk/shropshire-council/bt-payphones