Villagers 'displeased' as phone box removed in email muddle-up

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box.

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A parish council is fighting for the return of a village's only phone box which was taken away due to a mistake in an email address.

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) took the BT payphone from The Street in Knapton at the end of May after two emails intended for the village's parish clerk were sent to the wrong address.

Instead of being sent to the correct address dee.holroyd@knaptonvillage.org, a dot was missing and the emails were sent to deeholroyd@knaptonvillage.org instead. 

The payphone's disappearance has prompted calls from local councillors for it to be reinstated.

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box.

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Peter Neatherway, parish council chairman, said he was "extremely displeased" to discover the phone box had been removed "without any apparent explanation or warning".

"We want it back," he said.

"It's 50 yards from a defibrillator. If anybody needed help activating the defibrillator, and they didn't have a mobile phone or didn't have signal, they could use the phone box.

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"Its removal has potentially led to risk to life."

A spokesperson for NNDC, which acts as an intermediary for BT in the removal of phone boxes, said the Knapton kiosk had "not been used in over a year".

"One of the ways the parish council was contacted was via an incorrect email address, which has now been updated accordingly," the spokesperson added.

Knapton phonebox

North Norfolk District Council said that a phonebox in Knapton was not used in the 12 months prior to its removal in May this year. - Credit: Google

"In addition, consultation documents from BT and NNDC were placed on-display inside the phone box."

NNDC did not say whether or not the phone box would be returned to the village.

Greg Hayman, district councillor for Trunch ward, which includes Knapton, said he was "appalled" by the situation.

"I'm sure it's just a process glitch and not something deliberate, but it's got to be reinstated," he said.

"Sending emails and not getting a reply should have rang alarm bells at the district council. Assuming no reply was acquiescence isn't good enough."

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box.

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Mr Neatherway blamed the telephone's removal on a "seriously flawed process".

"It begs the question as to why nobody picked up the phone or wrote a letter to our parish clerk to complain that they had not had a response," he said.

He added that NNDC had a responsibility to seek a reply by alternative means if their emails did not solicit one.   

During consultation in 2016, the parish council told the district council it wanted to keep the phone box.

A BT spokesperson said: “Before removing this phone box we followed all of the processes and procedures set out by Ofcom, including posting a public notice inviting comments, and writing to North Norfolk District Council to begin a formal consultation on its removal.

"After receiving no objections from the District Council the phone box was removed.”

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box.

Knapton Parish Cllr Peter Neatherway is campaining for the return of the village's telephone box. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

'Protecting phone boxes'

Last November, Ofcom announced it would be protecting around 5,000 phone boxes around the UK from closure.

The communications regulator said it was banning BT from removing phone boxes in areas with poor mobile coverage, high accident or suicide rates, higher-than-average call rates, or where exceptional circumstances demanded a public phone box.

Ofcom said BT and Kcom could propose to remove phone boxes that did not fall within these criteria, but would need to formally consult local communities before any action was taken.

There are currently 21,000 phone boxes across the country.

While call volumes from payphones fell from around 800m minutes in 2002 to just 7m in 2020, a significant number of people still use them in emergencies.

In the 12 months up to May 2020, almost 150,000 calls were made to emergency services from phone boxes, while 25,000 calls were made to Childline and 20,000 to Samaritans.