Belfast Telegraph

Over 400 public payphones vanish from Northern Ireland streets as calls fall by 90% in decade

Dwindling: a phone box
Dwindling: a phone box
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The number of public payphones in Northern Ireland continues to drop, with 400 removed over the past decade.

With mobile phones now the norm for most people, demand for public telephone boxes has drastically reduced.

Calls from BT phone boxes have plunged by about 90% over the last 10 years.

In the past few years, more phone boxes have been removed with just 1,250 left in 2019, compared to 1,650 in 2008.

According to BT, on average only one call is now made every four days from a payphone in Northern Ireland.

Requests from councils and continued anti-social behaviour are cited as the most common reason for their removal.

Last year, BT announced it was replacing its old payphones in Belfast with new sites offering wi-fi, free calls and free mobile charging.

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The InLink boxes also offer digital services such as council and community information.

BT said it would invest £2.7m in the city over the next 10 years, with nine of the InLink units to be rolled out initially, replacing 18 payphones.

BT told the Belfast Telegraph: "Most people now have a mobile phone and calls made from our public telephones have fallen by around 90% in the past decade.

"We consider a number of factors before consulting on the removal of payphones, including whether others are available nearby and usage.

"The formal consultation process with local authorities to remove any payphone across the UK follows strict guidelines agreed with Ofcom.

"If local authorities object to the removal of a payphone, in line with the guidelines, it will not be removed.

"The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is also diminishing all the time, with at least 98% of the UK having either 3G or 4G coverage.

"This is very important because as long as there is network coverage, it's now possible to call the emergency services, even when there is no credit or no coverage from your own mobile provider."

In recent years communities have been encouraged to 'adopt' the last remaining red phone boxes in Northern Ireland for just £1.

Communities can apply to adopt a kiosk through a recognised public body, such as a parish council, community council, town council or charity.

Many have been used to house life-saving defibrillators while some of the more creative makeovers include a conversion to a library, a museum and even a miniature night club.

Northern Ireland has 180 red boxes, of which 27 are listed. In 2016, there were 201.

At least 14 have already been adopted, including kiosks in the villages of Ardstraw in Co Tyrone and Garrison in Co Fermanagh.

The classic General Post Office phone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and has become a national symbol.

At their peak in 2002 there were 92,000 BT payphones across the UK.

That is now down to 57,000, made up of 48,000 phone boxes - including 9,500 red phone boxes - on the street and 9,000 payphones on private sites such as railway stations, airports and shopping centres.

Vandalism costs approximately £5.2m a year, with BT having to replace 18,000 panes of glass in kiosks and more than 15,000 handsets over the majority of 12-month periods.

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