Get behind broadband bid

**HOLD FOR VISION**'Rural broadband
**HOLD FOR VISION**'Rural broadband

Wrangles over state aid in the EU have held up the UK’s plans for superfast broadband, although Northumberland also has its own funding issues.

Funding for broadband is being administered via the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which requires state aid cover.

In an interview with the Gazette, Stephen Gray, programme director for iNorthumberland, said: “The problem is Europe doesn’t see it in exactly the same way as the UK. The upshot is it has led to wrangles and delays and it’s led to a blockage in the procurement process.”

The state aid was due to be signed off in April, which would have seen Northumberland begin its procurement in July or August.

Now Mr Gray hopes that Northumberland, which is in the middle of the waiting list of around 35 regions, can start procurement in October with the roll-out beginning early next year.

“The Government has set ambitious targets for 2015 – superfast broadband to 90 per cent of the UK,” he said.

“There’s a risk that they would miss their targets.

“What it would mean locally is unknown really.

“But obviously we remain optimistic that it gets signed.”

The iNorthumberland programme is lobbying MPs and MEPs on the issue to get procurement started as quickly as possible, and also to try to boost the county up the list.

“We are trying to get our way up the queue and say ‘look, we are ready to go’,” said Mr Gray.

But there is a potentially larger problem for the county on the horizon.

“The other big issue is Northumberland needs more funding,” he said. “It’s probably a bigger problem than the procurement.

“It needs more money because of its unique nature.

“The funding will only take us to about 90 per cent of the population of Northumberland, not 90 per cent of the area.

“As you reach out into the west and north, there’s going to be massive challenges.”

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