Crime and anti-social behaviour linked to broken and vandalised phone boxes could spur Brighton and Hove City Council to issue BT with “community protection notices”.
The Green leader of the council Phélim Mac Cafferty has written to BT threatening to take action against the phone company if it fails to “tackle this blight”.
Breaching a “community protection notices” (CPN) is a criminal offence and can land a company with an unlimited fine.
Councillor Mac Cafferty has written to BT twice in just over a month after the reply to his first letter was “disappointing”.
In his latest letter on Friday (8 April) he said a number of BT’s old phone boxes “continue to be prime targets for all manner of anti-social and criminal behaviour”.
He wrote: “I would have thought that removing the phones would be a BT corporate priority in order to save precious time and money, rather than having to attend to them on a regular basis, given the appalling state they are in.
“I also would have thought that the bad public relations you suffer as a result of the spate of vandalism on the phones in Brighton and Hove would have encouraged speedier action.
“Ofcom’s universal service obligation stipulates that BT must ‘provide a reasonable number of working phone boxes where they’re most needed’ but BT doesn’t appear to support that aim with telephones that are free from vandalism.
“One of the phones has been switched to ‘emergency calls only’.”
BT is currently installing “street hubs” across the city, offering rapid charging, wifi, a dedicated 999 button, free phone calls and touch-screen tablets.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “BT’s behaviour on this means I am regretfully filled with dread with the new street hubs appearing in the city.
“We have been informed that these will have a fortnightly maintenance programme to address anti-social behaviour, including graffiti. Why can’t BT make this commitment to the rest of your property?
“I am committed to tidying up our wonderful city but I must be clear: our environmental enforcement team will be issuing community protection notices to you and others to tackle this blight where it is identified.
“I urge you to use this opportunity to work with the city council. Reconsider and prioritise the removal of the telephone boxes highlighted in my letter to you as well as others across Brighton and Hove.
“Prevent the need for council officials to issue CPNs and permit them to proactively focus on new and emerging problems.
“Avoid BT’s attention being repeatedly used in responding to the CPNs issued. Otherwise we will have no choice than to issue CPNs.”
Old Steine resident Gary Farmer has repeatedly lobbied the council about vandalised phone boxes in the centre of Brighton.
In an email to Councillor Mac Cafferty last month, Mr Farmer said: “In the city centre, we continue to have 33 vandalised kiosks used for drugs, urination, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
“Why are they still here? This is 2022, not 1977. Public phone boxes should be in a museum, not on our streets. Have you ever used one in the last 25 years?”
When told about BT’s pledge to maintain the new street hubs every fortnight, Mr Farmer said: “Every two weeks they will be cleaned? What about the phone kiosks?
“These are now in place and I expect will be graffitied quickly in line with the general neglect of the city.
“It is a cycle of dilapidation and vandalism that can only be solved by removing phone kiosks from the landscape. No body uses them to make calls as is clearly evident in the city centre.”
After a public consultation last year, BT said that it was removing 14 phone boxes across Brighton and Hove.
But the list did not include either of the vandalised boxes in Old Steine nor any others in the centre of Brighton.
BT said that the company removed payphones depending on how often they were used and whether there was another box near by.
In Brighton and Hove the focus was on removing low-use payphones and installing street hubs, it said.
BT added: “We’re in ongoing dialogue with the local council about our plans to upgrade the street estate in the area.
“In order to instal a street hub in place of a payphone, the local authority will need to approve the planning application.
“Currently, to remove a phone box where there are no other payphones within 400m walking distance, BT has to consult with and obtain permission from the local authority.”
BT said that people were encouraged to report phone boxes in need of repair or a clean.