CAMPAIGNERS have moved to block plans to remove a swathe of BT telephone boxes amid safety fears over poor mobile phone coverage in rural Scotland.

Residents in the Lammermuir Hills, which borders the Borders and East Lothian, claim their mobile phone signal is often so substandard that the red telephone booths are essential to alert authorities to an emergency.

It comes as BT revealed plans to remove three public telephones from the area as part of wider proposals cut the number of booths situated across the UK by a third.

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Lammermuir Community Council has now launched a campaign to prevent their removal and have asked officials to object to the plans.

Community council chairman Mark Rowley accused BT of being “reckless and immoral” over its cost-saving scheme.

In a letter to Scottish Borders Council, Mr Rowley said: “BT’s threatened closure of these three remote and rural telephone boxes would significantly impair access to emergency help when needed from residents and visitors in a remote rural area. None of these locations has access to mobile coverage according to BT’s own maps. All locations are clearly community centres where help would reasonably be sought in a sparsely-populated landscape and each are closely linked to nearby community-funded defibrillators.

“They all offer potentially the only access to lifesaving help in an emergency where visitors are frequently surprised to find no mobile coverage.

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“Whatever BT’s cost-saving aspirations, removal of these three, quite literal, life lines would be reckless and immoral. In many cases they are the only openly- available means of summoning emergency help.”

In Scotland, the plans by BT will see the removal of more than 600 payphones in the largely rural areas of Dumfries and Galloway, the Borders, Fife, the Highlands and Aberdeenshire.

This would leave just 3,300 operational phone boxes north of the border, fewer than half the 6,962 tally of 2003.

The firm claims payphone usage has declined by more than 90 per cent over the last decade, with hundreds of payphones being used less than five times a year due to the increase in mobile phone use.

However, BT has said it will ask local councils for permission to remove phones in areas where there is no other payphone within 437 yards. If it receives objections from the local authority, the payphone will not be taken away.

In his letter, Mr Rowley asks Scottish Borders Council to object to their removal on residents’ behalf, claiming they are already at a disadvantage being a significant distance away from emergency help and this will only make things worse.

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He wrote: “We hope that Scottish Borders Council will work with us to raise a suitably robust objection on behalf of Lammermuir Community Council.”

A BT spokeswoman said: “In this case, we’ll continue to liaise with the Scottish Borders Council on the three payphones Mr Rowley mentions to come to a solution that works for the local community.”

Scottish Borders failed to respond to a request for comment.

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