Mast scheme is criticised after abandonment

A phone mast.
A phone mast.

A councillor has accused the Government of leaving rural parts of Northumberland in the dark ages after a major programme to deliver mobile phone masts is to be abandoned.

The Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) was announced by Chancellor George Osborne nearly four years ago with the aim of building hundreds of masts in rural areas throughout the country.

A document from October last year showed that there were 18 sites in Northumberland being considered. A government spokesman said that three have been granted planning permission in Berwick, with two more in the pipeline.

And with funding for the MIP coming to an end on March 31, it has been confirmed that it will not be able to progress with any MIP schemes where planning applications have not yet been submitted or where an application had been submitted but the legal negotiations had not been completed by last Saturday.

But, Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury, accused the Government of playing smoke and mirrors and claimed the permissions for masts in Berwick were not part of the MIP.

He added: “It is abysmal. I think the Government should take the existing money and allow local communities, working in conjunction with the county council, to bid for it from them. The mobile phone operators are signed up, we will negotiate with local landowners, we will get the plans through and deliver this project better and quicker.”

A government spokesman said: “This government is investing in mobile infrastructure, making sure more households have better mobile coverage and that people in rural areas are not left behind. Providing services for remote areas can be extremely complex but as construction has begun on more and more sites, the roll-out will gather speed.”