£1million set out to help ensure Northumberland rural broadband project goes ahead in full

Councillors are set to sign off next week on almost £1million to ensure a rural broadband project in Northumberland can go ahead in full.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 11:55 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 5:58 pm
Stock image from Pixabay
Stock image from Pixabay

At the Tuesday, July 7, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s cabinet, members are recommended to approve spending £932,111 from the community broadband pot to support the completion of the full fibre programme.

As reported last summer, the North of Tyne Combined Authority was awarded up to £12million following a bid to the Government’sLocal Full Fibre Networks Programme earlier in the year.

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The funding was to deliver gigabit-capable, full-fibre connectivity to 313 public buildings via the Northumberland Gigabit Project.

At the time, Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson described it as ‘fantastic news for the county’ and both he and the North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, said that it will mean that rural Northumberland ‘will have better connectivity than most UK city centres’.

A report to the cabinet meeting explains that the procurement process began in early January in relation to 271 sites in the county.

The number of sites was reduced from the original list, as a small number of schools were already receiving funding for full fibre from a Department for Education (DfE) progtamme, a few sites are being connected by the iNorthumberland programme and 15 didn’t meet the state aid requirements.

‘Despite efforts to stimulate the market, only one bid was received from BT and Openreach,’ the report adds, explaining that it was for £8.2million, well within the £12million maximum grant on offer.

In April, the Government approved the contract, but at this point, it became clear that the funding is only available for those properties connected to full fibre by the end of 2021 and the BT delivery plan ‘clearly shows a small number of property connections won’t be completed until March 31, 2022’.

Therefore, the council has to pick up the cost of these connections, but it has been confirmed that this £932,111 is ‘the absolute limit of the authority’s liability and if for any reason BT are unable to deliver a larger number of sites by December 31, 2021, the cost of these sites would not fall on the council’.

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