A BID to bring quicker internet to a rural part of Northumberland has been backed by the Government with a £500,000 grant.
The application to bring superfast broadband to Rothbury and surrounding communities has been given initial approval by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Other applications for Otterburn and Bellingham, Felton and Swarland, and Bywell have been deferred.
The Rothbury bid to Defra’s £20m rural broadband programme was submitted by GreySky Consulting, in partnership with Northumberland County Council and Northumberland National Park Authority.
Defra said the first phase of the “i-coquetdale” project had cleared a first hurdle of its initiative, which helps areas in the top 10% of most difficult places to reach for broadband. The phase seeks to bring fibre optic cable from Morpeth to the Rothbury exchange, allowing superfast broadband to be rolled out to smaller settlements.
It would benefit people in the parishes of Rothbury, Cartington, Thropton, and Whitton and Tosson, and parts of Rothley and Hollinghill, in particular the Fontburn area.
Defra has indicated it will give around £500,000 which would be matched by a partner company such as BT.
The full bid must be prepared and submitted to Defra. It is hoped the communities could begin to benefit from it later this year.
Last night, county councillor for the area Steven Bridgett said the bid’s success had been down to the fact that the partners had been able to prove local demand. Around 66% of residents with broadband registered an interest.
The area also finished in the top 30 nationally and first in the North East in BT’s Race to Infinity competition, which promised superfast broadband for communities which demonstrated the biggest demand.
Coun Bridgett said: “Superfast broadband is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity for all our residents and businesses.
“We have got a high density of farms who need to do their tax returns to Defra and they have appalling speeds to do this. We need to be increasing these speeds for residents but for our businesses as well.”
The partners have planned a second phase of their project which they hope to submit in May. That would request funding to put fibre optic into some of the area’s smaller exchanges such as Alwinton, Harbottle, Hepple, Glanton, Netherton and Whittingham.
The Defra funding is separate to the BD:UK grant which was awarded to the county council last week.
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OFT team probes rural issues
THE problems facing rural communities were put firmly on the table in a dual Government fact-finding mission yesterday.
Delegates from the Office of Fair Trading met businesses and community leaders in Northumberland – one of only two areas of England to be given the face-to-face visit.
The OFT team, which also went to Devon, discussed rural issues such as fuel prices, broadband and emergency services at Tarset and Hexham.
The evidence gathered will go into a comprehensive OFT report to be published in July.
Business leaders have welcomed the initiative.
Antony Braithwaite, chair of the North East Farming and Rural Advisory Network, said: “The problems are absolutely clear.
“Petrol and diesel prices make life difficult in places like Kielder, where the filling station has opened again. Fuel poverty, broadband and other issues are very important in rural areas, and I very much welcome the OFT initiative, the likes of which is to be encouraged and applauded.”
Coun Barry Imeson, chair of Tarset and Greystead Parish Council, said: “The people who were there were there to represent the concerns of the valley.
“Some of the views expressed were not dissimilar to other parts, and issues raised included petrol prices and broadband as well as emergency services.”
OFT director Kyla Brand said: “Geography and population density can have a major impact on the cost and accessibility of goods and services to consumers, and on how businesses operate.
“We are particularly interested in hearing from people living and working in remote areas in the North East to help us get a clearer picture of these issues and understand and explain some of the reasons behind them.”