PLANS to remove 49 phone boxes across Northumberland could see residents in rural communities cut off.

Telecommunications giant BT has submitted a string of planning applications to Northumberland County Council with 24 payphones in Tynedale under threat, including some of the district’s most remote villages, such as Falstone, Elsdon and West Woodburn.

Though disappointed by plans, county councillor for Bellingham, Coun. John Riddle, said he could understand the reasons for the proposals.

He said: “I think it’s inevitable really, they aren’t used. But I’m not happy removing them where there is bad signal.

“Nearly everyone has a mobile or has access to one if there was an accident. You’re more likely to be near to a mobile than a phone box.

“I’m not happy about it, but its a sign of the times.”

Coun. Riddle also likened the removal of phone boxes to high street shopping, quoting the famous “if you don’t use them, lose them”.

Coun. Alan Sharp, the chairman of Haltwhistle Town Council, had previously spoken of his opposition towards the removal of phone boxes, with the town set to lose four in total.

He said: “I believe phone boxes are important. They are an essential thing we need to retain in rural areas.”

However, BT said that most people now had a mobile phone and calls made from public telephones had dipped by 90 per cent in the past decade.

A BT spokesperson said: “We consider a number of factors before consulting on the removal of payphones, including whether others are available nearby and usage.

"We are currently consulting on the removal of 49 phone boxes in the Northumberland County Council area, providing the community the chance to comment on our proposals.

"As part of the consultation, we are also offering communities the chance to adopt traditional red heritage phone boxes for just £1 through our Adopt a Kiosk scheme.”

Successful bids have seen under-used phone boxes transformed to house defibrillators and information centres. The spokesperson added: “The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is diminishing all the time, with at least 98 per cent of the UK having either 3G or 4G coverage. This is 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."

The phone boxes in Tynedale up for the chop are: Falstone x2; Halton-Lea-Gate; Dipton Mill Road; Melkridge; Haltwhistle x4; Elsdon; Kielder x2; Humshaugh; Gilsland; West Woodburn; Stamfordham; Henshaw; Steel; Ridsdale; Byrness; Prudhoe; Allenheads x2; Hexham.