A village is up in arms after BT planned to remove a public phone

Ken Ingleton, chairman of Minster parish council, wants the phone box near the White House restaurant in Minster to be retained for emergency calls.
Ken Ingleton, chairman of Minster parish council, wants the phone box near the White House restaurant in Minster to be retained for emergency calls.

A village is up in arms after BT planned to remove a public phone box that is used just once a month.

BT is looking to close three of the ten call boxes on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent as only a handful of calls are being made every month, the company says.

But one of the boxes in Minster-on-Sea is vital in case of emergency to locals who have bad mobile reception and the plans are being opposed by the parish council.

Many people, the council claims, rely on the boxes to call emergency services when they run into trouble in the water or get stuck in the mud, especially those staying at nearby campsites where the risk of flooding is high.

But according to the company, just one call is made on average every month from the boxes on Blue Town High Street and Minster, while 19 are made opposite Sheerness Police Station.

The call box in Millennium Way, Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey.
The call box in Millennium Way, Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey.

Speaking on behalf of the council, clerk Trish Hamilton said: “The lack of adequate mobile telephone cover in the area means lives could be put at risk if the facility is removed.

“This is supported by evidence showing regular call outs of the emergency services to that location when individuals including children and families run into difficulties in the water or become stuck in the mud.

“The majority of incidents to date report having no mobile telephone reception or limited reception when seeking help and it has been usually left to passers-by to seek help by dialling 999 using the facility in question.

“Equally importantly, the demographic most likely to be affected includes the people living close by, particularly under the 10-months occupancy conditions at holiday parks where the risk of flooding is designated as serious by the Environment Agency.

“Removing this facility presents as a serious public safety risk to those residents and their visitors.

“For these reasons and more, the council insists on this facility remaining in place.”

Ken Ingleton, chairman of Minster parish council, wants the phone box near the White House restaurant in Minster to be retained.
Ken Ingleton, chairman of Minster parish council, wants the phone box near the White House restaurant in Minster to be retained.

Regardless of the outcome, the phone boxes on the Isle of Sheppey could do with a lick of paint.

The one in Blue Town has weathered windows and is covered in graffiti with weeds protruding through the floor.

Similarly, The Broadway’s phone box has no door, a ceiling compartment hanging open, no light and mouldy windows.

Phone boxes can be taken over by community bodies, charities or individuals who have one on their land.

BT has promised to continue paying for the electricity in any adopted phone boxes free of charge. They can also be used to house defibrillators.

But according to the company, the era of pay phones is drawing to a close, with the number of calls dwindling.

In Kent, the average is less than three calls a week per phone, and that is just below the national average.

A BT spokesman explained: “With the vast majority of people now using mobile phones, it’s led to a huge drop in the number of calls made from payphones.

“At the same time, mobile coverage has improved significantly in recent years due to investment in masts.

“There are many pay phones that see no calls made from them each month.

“So, we’re giving communities the chance to decide how best they can use their local phone box.

“We’re consulting with Swale council on the proposed removal of the three pay phones.

“If the council says there is still a need for a payphone service, or wants to adopt the box, it will stay.”