Northumberland County Council is demanding an explanation as to why a much-vaunted scheme to boost mobile-phone coverage in the county has fallen 'spectacularly short'.
The council is also calling on the area's MPs to investigate the project that was supposed to deliver better mobile phone coverage for 20 communities in the county. So far, of the installations that had been expected through the Government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), only two masts are expected to be operational before the end of the project on March 31.
A company called Arqiva were commissioned by the Department for Culture Media and Sport and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) to deliver the project, which was allocated £150million nationally to install mobile phone infrastructure.
Northumberland County Council has been told by Arqiva that it will only deliver two of the 20 sites proposed for Northumberland. A letter is now being sent from the council to all Northumberland MPs which has the support of all political groups on the council – with councillors from all political parties concerned about this issue, and keen to have it looked into.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: "To say we are disappointed with this project is an understatement. We understood that there were 20 masts proposed for Northumberland at the start of the programme, all of which had support from the three main mobile phone operators.
"As well as the two that Arqiva have said that they will deliver, we are aware that a further three masts achieved full planning approval but are not being taken forward. No explanation has been provided for this.
"It seems ridiculous that in the 21st century we are going to be left with huge areas which have frankly pathetic mobile-phone coverage. We know from frustrated residents and even our own staff how difficult a lack of good reception can be.
"We are calling on our MPs to look into this on behalf of Northumberland residents, to find out the current position regarding where the funding was spent or directed to, and what is planned for the future."
The two masts that Arqiva have said they will complete by the end of the month are on land near Hagwood Farm, near Hexham, and land by Ewesley Farm Cottage, Ewesley. The sites that have gained planning permission, but which they have said that they are unable to progress are near Gilsland, Scots Gap and Norham.
A spokeswoman for Arqiva said: "Arqiva is expecting to deliver two sites in Northumberland by the time of the MIP completion. Despite extensive investigation of a number of other locations originally identified as potential recipients of masts, it has not proven possible to progress additional sites within the project time-frame.
"By their nature, MIP sites are located in the most rural and remote parts of Britain, including many designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, bringing about a unique set of challenges not limited to physical access, visual disturbance, capital expenditure constraints, power supplies, 4G transmission connections and securing community and stakeholder buy-in. To move a site from planning permission to delivery, all of these elements have to align and have to do so within the allotted timescale. This was not possible for the remaining sites in Northumberland."