Superfast broadband plan gains support

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A PROJECT in rural Northumberland which aims to secure up to £4million to improve broadband to homes and businesses has launched its website and won the support of several high-profile public figures.

iCoquetdale, which is being led by Coun Steven Bridgett, aims to connect the 2,638 homes and businesses in Coquetdale, Whittingham Vale and parts of Redesdale to superfast broadband.

And after its launch on Friday, 250 households have already signed up to the website and given their views about broadband speeds.

The first stage of the project, which is expected to cost more than £1million, has met the Department for Enivronment, Farming and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) endorsement and is one of only 16 projects nationally to do so.

It is also the only project in the North East to have been endorsed.

Stage one involves bringing the fibre-optic cable from Morpeth to Rothbury and feeding it into the exchange and cabinets in Cartington, Thropton, Rothbury, Rothley and Hollinghill and Whitton and Tosson parishes.

Stage two aims to draw down an additional £3million in public and private sector funds to install the fibre-optic cable into the exchanges and cabinets in Alwinton, Glanton, Whittingham, Netherton, Harbottle, Hepple, Alnham and Elsdon.

Coun Bridgett said: “We have been successful so far with stage one because we have been able to demonstrate to funders that there is a demand from local residents for this utility.

“To do the same for the areas in stage two, we must capture as much demand as possible from the public. We cannot do this without the public telling us they want superfast broadband and that is the reason we have created the iCoquetdale website.”

The Duke of Northumberland is one of many public figures who has thrown his support behind the campaign in Coquetdale.

He said: “The internet is a vital resource for individuals and businesses, but it is particularly important in rural areas where it can help small businesses and facilitate communication, contact and education.

“Rural areas that sometimes struggle for other services will benefit greatly from superfast broadband and I give my full support to the project.”

Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Alan Beith, has also given his endorsement to the project.

He said: “I am glad the Government has recognised the needs of rural areas and has set up the Rural Community Broadband Fund.

“I feel Coquetdale would be an ideal candidate to receive support.

“Many businesses would benefit from superfast broadband, including farmers filling in animal movements and other returns online, tourist businesses promoting themselves and taking bookings, and general business needs such as online banking and submission of VAT returns.”

Lieutenant Colonel Niall MacGregor-Smith, the commanding officer for the Otterburn Training area – which includes some of the communities that would benefit from superfast broadband – added: “If anything, remote communities like Upper Coquetdale are in greater need of improved internet access simply because of the lack of other amenities.

“This is an exciting project and I wish it every success.”

Residents can now log on to www.icoquetdale.co.uk and register their interest in superfast broadband.