A ROW over a phone box in a remote Exmoor village has prompted calls for the situation to be 'sorted' from a Somerset MP.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency includes much of the National Park, has called for a speedy resolution of a situation which could leave a group of local families unable to call for help in an emergency.

Conservative Mr Liddell-Grainger says the Exmoor National Park authority, the National Trust and BT must work together to ensure villagers in Luccombe, near Minehead, don’t lost a vital link to the outside world.

The National Trust village – population 157 – has one public phone box, which BT now says it is planning to remove, despite having promised councillors it would leave it in place after they objected to a similar proposal last year.

BT claims Luccombe has mobile phone coverage, so making the box redundant. But villagers say that is based on false information: because of the locality’s hilly terrain there is no signal.

The community had been offered a local network using an antenna installed in the church tower.

But Exmoor National Park officials objected to the scheme because the work might have disturbed a bat colony.

And Mr Liddell-Grainger said the situation was clearly intolerable.

“Luccombe’s inhabitants must feel they are living in some dreadful fantasy world where common sense has ceased to exist,” he said.

“Virtually all the phones in the village are digital so if there is a power cut they won’t work and without a functioning public phone box people will have no way of calling for help if an emergency arises.

“Some people might argue that that would be an extremely rare combination of circumstances but history shows us rare combinations of circumstances do occur, often with devastating consequences.

“BT must leave that phone box in place until alternative communications can be provided and I am looking to the National Trust and the National Park to work together on that.

“Unfortunately the National Park authority has a fine record of talking up the need for better internet and mobile phone coverage across the moor but then adopting an obstructive attitude when it comes to installing the actual hardware needed to provide it.

“I understand its legal duty to protect and conserve wildlife but that should not be prioritised at the expense of people’s safety."

After saving the phone box from removal previously, last month, villagers were dismayed to see a new sign installed which read: "We're thinking about removing this payphone.

"Our research show that this payphone just isn't used enough for us to carry on running it.

"Because of this, we think we should remove it."

Somerset County Gazette:

It goes on to ask for feedback from interested parties - and the area's MP is sure to register his opinion.

“This is a situation where heads really need to be banged together with a certain degree of force to arrive at a workable solution,” Mr Liddell-Grainger added.

A post on the parish website highlighted the bid to remove the phonebox, saying: "Aside from being a historic landmark in the village, the phone is essential as we do not have any mobile reception here (and it looks like we won’t be getting any, anytime soon).

"Many residents do not have landlines because they have Airband broadband, meaning that if one needed to make an emergency phone call for a fire or medical situation, the phone box is their only way of calling 999."

Chair of Luccombe Parish Council, Henry Harington, has written to BT, Somerset West and Taunton Council, as well as the Exmoor National Park Authority.

He wrote: "Despite assurances that the order to remove the phone box and the telephone service had been rescinded (last year), a notice has recently been posted in the phone box saying that the facility is to be removed.

"Last year’s proposal to remove the kiosk was based on the lie that there is a mobile telephone service in Luccombe – there isn’t.

"BT wittingly or unwittingly perpetuated the lie using OfCom data about mobile coverage provided to OfCom by deceitful mobile phone companies which claim more extensive coverage than they in fact deliver.

"Mobile phone company maps show a mobile signal in Luccombe. Anyone on any of the networks will show you there is no mobile signal anywhere in the village and especially not in the centre of the village by the telephone box."

He added: "As I have mentioned, BT have again posted a notice saying they intend to remove the phone box. It can only be assumed BT acted in bad faith when they promised to halt stop the removal last year."

A BT spokesperson said: "Most people now have a mobile phone and calls made from our public telephones have fallen by around 90 per cent in the past decade.

"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 23 payphones in the district of Somerset West and Taunton, providing communities the chance to comment on our proposals.

"As part of the consultations, we are also offering communities the chance to adopt traditional red heritage phone boxes for just £1 through our Adopt a Kiosk scheme and transform them into something inspirational for their local area. For more details visit bt.com/adopt 

"The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is also 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 from your own mobile provider."