'Save our red phone boxes' - plea

TAKE the telephones but leave the boxes - that's the plea from a number of parishes who face losing their iconic red phone boxes.

Craig Robinson

TAKE the telephones but leave the boxes - that's the plea from a number of parishes who face losing their iconic red phone boxes.

British Telecom wants to axe 42 payphones in the St Edmundsbury area. The firm claims the kiosks are rarely used and uneconomic.

But the iconic boxes are regarded as essential features in some villages and residents are now desperately trying to get their kiosks listed in order to protect them from BT's axe.

Across Suffolk, BT is looking at closing 234 of the 862 phone boxes in the county because they say the number of calls made from payphones has halved in the last three years.

The red box in Wixoe, near Sudbury, was used only once in the past year and is one of those earmarked for removal by BT.

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David Smith, secretary of Wixoe Parish Meeting, said the village had no problem with BT walking off with the telephone and its cables as long as it left the box where it was.

Mr Smith said: “We realise it is going to go as a public telephone. We just don't want the box to go - it is a landmark, part of the village.

“It is red and important to the village. We as a parish meeting are quite prepared to take on the looking after of it. We don't want to lose it. It has stood on the corner of our village for 50 years and we have put in a formal request to keep the box.”

The telephone kiosk in Depden, near Bury St Edmunds, also faces the axe. It has been used 53 times in the last year.

But residents living in the area want to save it and fear having to think up new landmarks for when they give friends directions around the village.

The parish council is expected to submit a formal request for the box to be given listed status.

Fred Gooch, a parish councillor who lives close to the red telephone kiosk in Depden, said: “It was put up there when I was a boy which was about 70 years ago.

“We don't want to see it go. We like to see it and we use it when we give people directions to places in the village.”

Other parishes expected to attempt to get their boxes listed include Thelnetham and Cowlinge while others plan to fight BT's proposals claiming although the boxes are not often used they are important assets in dealing with emergencies.

A BT spokesman said: “The process and criteria for listing kiosks is managed by English Heritage and we of course abide by their guidelines and decisions.

“There are currently just under 2,800 listed kiosks and these do not appear in the current set of consultations being undertaken”

Decisions on the future of St Edmundsbury's telephone boxes will be made by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which will forward its verdict to BT.

In a report to the council's overview and scrutiny committee, scrutiny manager Adriana Stapleton said: “Whilst the visual importance of the phone boxes in their setting is not a recommended consideration, there is an argument that in some villages the traditional red phone boxes make an important contribution to the character of the location.”

The red telephone box was first designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

The first telephone kiosk - named the K1 - was unveiled in 1920 and was made of concrete.

The red box came about in 1924 in the wake of a competition for a box acceptable to the London metropolitan boroughs.

By 1980 there were more than 70,000 red telephone boxes in existence.

The only place in the UK not under the Post Office monopoly was Hull. Its telephone kiosks were cream-coloured and did not bear the Royal crown.

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