Peer and MP back calls for superfast broadband in Northumberland

Rural areas of Northumberland risk being left behind in broadband roll-out, warn campaigners

Writer and landowner Viscount Ridley who raised the broadband campaign in the Lords
Writer and landowner Viscount Ridley who raised the broadband campaign in the Lords

A campaign for improved broadband communication in Northumberland has been backed in the House of Lords.

Residents in the Coquet Valley and nearby areas are campaigning for superfast broadband and better mobile phone services - and warn that slow or non-existent services in rural areas will create “digital ghettos”.

The campaign was raised in the Lords by writer and landowner Viscount Ridley, commonly known as Matt Ridley, a Conservative peer.

Quizzing a Government industry spokesman, he said: “While I warmly welcome the rollout of superfast broadband throughout the country, what words of comfort does my noble friend have for the inhabitants of Upper Coquetdale, running up to the Scottish border in Northumberland, particularly in the villages of Alnham, Alwinton, Hepple, Holystone, Netherton and Sharpeton, who have not only no broadband but no mobile coverage?

“They are in a ‘not spot’ and there are no plans for them to get out of it yet.”

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith
 

Responding for the Government, Business spokesman Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “I am very conscious of the important needs of rural areas, and the £150m of funding for the mobile infrastructure project is precisely to deal with ‘not spots’ in coverage.”

The campaign was also backed by Berwick-upon-Tweed Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who said: “Superfast broadband and mobile phone services need to be extended to the communities of Upper Coquetdale, following the pioneering and successful roll out of superfast broadband in Rothbury. Broadband and the internet are what makes it possible to develop small business in remote communities and mobile phone coverage also has a vital part to play.”

Stephen Waddington, of campaign group Digital Coquetdale, said: “The Digital Coquetdale campaign for improved mobile and broadband services is attracting regional and national attention. Lack of 21st Century communication infrastructure is an issue that many rural communities face.”

Latest Ofcom figures show the average download speed in urban areas is 31.9Mbit/s while the average speed in rural areas is 11.3Mbit/s.

But in parts of Northumberland, speeds are limited to 2Mbit/s or less - or services are not available at all.

The Coquet Valley campaign is involved in parish council and village meetings to build awareness of the issue and involve local people in a data gathering exercise to prove the limitations of existing broadband and mobile systems, and prove the need for investment.

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