Millions to be spent on making internet faster in Northumberland

A new £7m boost for 5G connectivity could be a “game changer” for people and businesses in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll.North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll.
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll.

The North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has agreed to invest the huge sum in the ‘5G and Future Connectivity’ programme, aimed at significantly improving the region’s digital infrastructure.

The programme is particularly targeted at rural areas and aims to make it easier for people to work from home. Although more people are expected to return to offices as we emerge from the pandemic, most firms are likely to adopt a hybrid system, where employees divide their time between home and office working.

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North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said that the overall cost of radically upgrading the North East’s connectivity would be in the hundreds of millions of pounds, if not billions, but this money would help local leaders leverage major outside investment.

Richard Wearmouth, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, told a meeting of the cabinet this week that the fund would be a “game-changer for our communities” and that the NTCA would offer “real incentives for mobile networks and infrastructure providers to roll out super-fast wireless and fibre across our local authorities”.

The Conservative councillor said that coronavirus had accelerated the shift to digitisation and created opportunities that would previously have seemed a decade away, and created “fantastic” opportunities for people in more rural areas such as Rothbury or Haltwhistle to work remotely rather than worry about a long commute.

The combined authority has previously launched a programme to roll out high-speed connectivity to hundreds of public buildings in rural Northumberland, but Coun Wearmouth said there was now a need to go “further and faster”.

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He added: “We want to ensure that we have robust internet connections, not like my connection that goes off at 8.01pm every night while I’m watching Netflix… We want robust connectivity for remote working, for connected public services, and to enable us to grow our digital and tech industries.”

The NTCA said that the £7m would be used to develop business cases for projects encouraging faster roll-out of commercial wired and wireless internet connectivity, give more local industries the opportunity to trial and adopt the use of 5G, and tackle digital exclusion.

A further £5m is also being set aside to support digital and tech businesses in the three North of Tyne council areas, including start-ups, which is is hoped will create hundreds of jobs.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “The digital sector is transforming our economy and how services are delivered – that’s why we are looking to make this major investment now.

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“The North of Tyne has some great assets: cutting edge research at Newcastle Helix, large digital firms like IBM in North Tyneside and hi-tech manufacturers in Northumberland. We must ensure we remain at the forefront of the digital revolution.

“But this investment is also about people. By showing confidence in our communities, businesses, and their ideas we can create the jobs of the future right here.”