Mobile mast is switched on, but still no sign of any more

Anne-Marie Treveylan MP with residents Michael Orde and Louise Kirkwood.

Anne-Marie Treveylan MP with residents Michael Orde and Louise Kirkwood.

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Hundreds of homes in a rural area of Northumberland now get mobile-phone reception thanks to a new mast.

However, it is one of just two to be completed as part of a much-vaunted scheme which was supposed to boost coverage in 20 communities.

The new mast, on land at Ewesley Farm, near the Scots Gap and Rothbury junction, was installed by Arqiva, which was commissioned by the Government to deliver the project that was allocated £150million nationally.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP said: “This area has really suffered from poor signal so I am delighted the mast has now been switched on.

“Many local people, myself included, have mobile-telephone reception at home for the first time.

“It is a good start, but we need many more masts across the county in order to ensure better coverage, especially in Norham.”

A site at Norham, alongside one near Gilsland and another at Scots Gap, received planning permission, but Arqiva said it was unable to progress them.

Mrs Trevelyan has written to the Culture Secretary, Ed Vaizey, to ask why only two sites were identified by Arqiva as deliverable by the end of last month, despite the other three having planning consent.

Arqiva has not provided Northumberland County Council with an explanation for this and, to date, invitations to attend meetings to discuss the project have not been accepted.

Mrs Trevelyan said: “I would be grateful to receive an explanation from Arqiva for why the additional three sites have not been taken forward and for an update on the further 20 masts identified as viable options in Northumberland when the project began.

“I would also be keen to see a breakdown of how the £150 million has been allocated thus far and projected future spend.

“The new mast is a good start, but it is not nearly enough to ensure that all our rural communities are well connected. I will continue to campaign for better provision for our county.”

Last month, we reported that the county council was asking why the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) had fallen ‘spectacularly short’.

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “To say we are disappointed with this project is an understatement. We understood that there were 20 masts proposed for Northumberland at the start of the programme, all of which had support from the three main mobile-phone operators.

“It seems ridiculous that in the 21st century we are going to be left with huge areas which have frankly pathetic mobile-phone coverage. We know from frustrated residents and even our own staff how difficult a lack of good reception can be.”

A spokeswoman for Arqiva said: “Despite extensive investigation of a number of other locations originally identified as potential recipients of masts, it has not proven possible to progress additional sites within the project time-frame.”

Later in March, we reported that Coquetdale councillor Steven Bridgett had called on the local authority ‘to bid for some of the remaining funding to try to address the problems at a local community level’.