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Blackdown Hills Communities Hope for Better Broadband with EU Money

Monday, June 13th, 2016 (4:02 pm) - Score 603

Villages in the rural Blackdown Hills, which represents a 370km2 area of natural beauty that straddles the border between Somerset and Devon in South West England, appear to have become tired of waiting for better broadband and have instead put in a bid for £4.6m from the EU to support their own plan.

The proposal to secure investment via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was officially tabled by the Blackdowns Hills Parish Network (BHPN) today, although precise details of the project continue to be in short supply.

According to the press release, East Devon District Council (EDDC) has agreed in principle to be the BHPN’s Delivery Partner in finding appropriate suppliers and managing the project. Under the plan it’s hoped that the Department of Communities and Local Government will communicate a decision on the application in July 2016 and, if successful, a full application will then be submitted before the end of October 2016.

Under this plan it’s anticipated that an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for potential suppliers is likely to be published in early 2017, but it’s also possible that the imminent EU referendum might create some problems, especially if people vote to leave. In theory a post-Brexit UK would have two years to negotiate an exit, during which time the usual rules should still apply.

The project will naturally be centred on parishes in the Blackdown Hills AONB (there are around 39 of those), but it will also consider extending “NGA Broadband” (30Mbps+) coverage to parishes adjacent to the AONB; funding and technology permitting. The tender will be technology neutral.

Mrs Heather Stallard MBE, Chair of the BHPN, said:

“This is an exciting opportunity for all Blackdown parishes, many of whom have missed out on the current County run broadband programme. It will enable our residents and businesses to have access to the technology and trade routes of the 21st Century and we hope that the Department of Communities and Local Government will look favourably upon our outline application. We are pleased to be working with East Devon District Council as our Delivery Partner in pursuing this opportunity.”

At this point our regular readers will no doubt recall that the local Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme, which is supported by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK scheme, has been stuck in a sort of limbo for the past year after failing to agree a new extension contract with BT (here).

The CDS project has in fact recently moved forward with their procurement to find a supplier that will be able to push a superfast broadband (24Mbps+) network beyond the current coverage target of 90%, which is due to be achieved by the end of 2016. But perhaps the BHPN aren’t too keen on waiting to see if they will be missed out again and have taken matters into their own hands.

We suspect that a fixed wireless network may end up being one of the most likely solutions, much like the one that last year won a similar tender for the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks (here).

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. MikeW says:

    Perhaps this explains East Devon’s freeze on putting money into CDS.

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