Ian Liddell-Grainger

‘Folly’ to remove Exmoor phone boxes

EXMOOR’s MP has described as ‘folly’ plans to remove more public telephone boxes from the national park.

Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger said the proposals could put lives at risk while the moor remains so poorly served by mobile phone coverage.

BT has announced plans to remove boxes from a number of locations where they are being used as little as once a month – or even less.

But the move has been condemned by Mr Liddell-Grainger whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency includes two-thirds of the national park.

He said: “This is an issue which BT has been worrying away at for years – and the fact that so many parish councils want to keep their phone boxes hasn’t discouraged it, presumably because it believes the views of local people don’t count for anything.

“The reason those phone boxes are required is not because they look picturesque, not that they are iconically significant: it’s because they could literally be life-savers.

“The telecoms sector has been incredibly laggardly in delivering mobile phone coverage to Exmoor despite the massive amount of Government investment that has been made available.

“We all know the reason why: the special circumstances that pertain in rural areas where the cost of installation and maintenance of the network is hardly likely to be covered by the returns.

“But the counter to that is that if the new technology cannot be made available then the old technology cannot simply be ripped out and it would be folly – and dangerous folly – to do so.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger said BT could not get away with basing its case on statistics.

“You can use statistics to prove anything. I don’t care how infrequently a phone box has been used in the last month, six months, year, or ten years: the fact is that at any time it could be needed to summon help in an emergency – potentially a life-or-death one.

“Statistics aren’t going to be of much comfort if you’re lying out on the moor with a broken leg, no mobile coverage and the nearest phone box five miles away.

“And when one learns that the National Park authority still hasn’t got round to approving all the work necessary for the new emergency services communications network across the moor Exmoor suddenly starts to look like a very dangerous place to go adventuring.”

However one at-risk public phone has been saved. In Luccombe near Minehead – where there is no mobile coverage – villagers have been mounting a vigorous campaign, with the backing of Mr Liddell-Grainger, to persuade BT to leave their box where it is.

They have now been told by Somerset West and Taunton Council officials that it will be spared the axe.

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