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Fibre GarDen Calls a HALT to Rural Cumbria FTTP Broadband Project

Friday, October 16th, 2015 (1:25 pm) - Score 2,644

Going nowhere fast. The Digital Dales (Fibre GarDen) project, which had been hoping to deploy a 100Mbps FTTP broadband network to 580 premises in the rural Cumbria (England) villages of Garsdale and Dentdale, has today ground to a halt over funding problems.

Last month ISPreview.co.uk ran an extensive article on some of the challenges that the Fibre GarDen project was facing, not least their struggle to pay contractors for the work that had already been done (here). At that point it became clear that the £650,000 project (details) was in trouble, although the ITS Technology Group remained confident of progress.

David Cullen, ITS Executive Director, told ISPreview.co.uk (Sept 2015):

In short, the set of circumstances has led to a ridiculously protracted process, which has in turn led to issues that in all honestly could have very probably been handled better by everyone (hindsight is a wonderful thing). However, they are all issues that anyone battling to provide next generation broadband to the deprived areas of the UK risk facing almost daily.

The important thing is what you do about them. MAP Group, Fibre GarDen and ITS are now extremely confident, that after 6 years, the project is now in a very strong position. Feet will be back on the ground by the middle of October and in sufficient force to see the network build complete by the end of Q1 next year.”

We didn’t entirely share the “very strong position” claim and today those fears appear to have reached fruition. In a brief statement the Chairman of Fibre GarDen, Andrew Fleck, confirmed that the “viability of the project is [now] uncertain” and that it was “impractical for Fibre GarDen to access the funding” that had already been set aside from public sources.

Andrew Fleck said:

As Members, local residents and close observers of the Fibre GarDen project will know there has been a disappointing lack of progress on the ground throughout the summer and autumn. We have received a number of enquiries about this which is entirely understandable.

The delays now mean that it is impractical for Fibre GarDen to access the funding which had been assigned to the project by DEFRA and we have met with DEFRA representatives to advise them of that fact. After five years of working towards this end, they too are disappointed.

There can be no doubt that the viability of the project is uncertain at this time and the Board are taking advice about several alternative options in order that we may act in the best interests of Members, stakeholders and the community. We do not wish to issue any statements about our next course of action at this time before we have had time to properly assess those options.”

A private meeting is due to be held on 17th November 2015, when the current problems and any possible solutions will be discussed. Immediately after that there will be another meeting, albeit a more public one (details about that will be published in the near future).

The situation does not mean that Fibre GarDen is dead, more that it has stalled until a decision can be made about the best way forward. Mind you some would perhaps argue that, given its general lack of progress, the project has effectively already been stalled for most of the year.

Meanwhile DEFRA has already agreed once to revise its final funding claim deadline from September to 13th November 2015 and they may now have to do that again, although equally there may come a point where their patience simply runs out. Today’s outcome could also be used as a political weapon by MPs that have opposed the scheme in favour of a BT delivered alternative.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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