More than 20 rural payphones scheduled for the axe in a BT costcutting exercise could yet be saved.

The telecommunications firm has delayed the removal of 22 phone boxes in Richmondshire after objections from residents and councillors. However, six payphones that generated no objections are now certain to be disposed of.

The stay of execution comes after county councillors from the Richmondshire area committee sent a letter to BT urging the firm to reconsider.

In reply, Rick Thompson, BT project liaison officer, claimed the increase in mobile phone use meant many public phone boxes were seldom used.

He said: "The boxes we are planning to remove are rarely used and are continuing to see a year on year decline in usage.

"Whilst understanding your concern for people who are without access to a mobile or landline, it may help to put things into perspective if I say that a recent Ofcom survey found that fewer than one per cent of the population do not have access to a landline or mobile."

However, he added: "The 22 proposals for which we have received objections, have been put on hold and will be carefully reviewed, bearing in mind any comments made in support of the kiosks' retention.

"This may take some time but no action will be taken until we have resolved the issues raised."

Community leaders and residents argue that many rural areas still only have patchy mobile coverage and the removal of payphones could put lives at risk in an emergency.

Carl Les, county councillor for business and community affairs, is due to meet with BT bosses to discuss the fate of the payphones next month.