Devon and Somerset are to receive a £30m share of £50m funding, which was allocated today to help roll out super-fast broadband across rural areas. The other successful bids are from Wiltshire and Norfolk.
The move was welcomed by business leaders who praised the lead given by the local authorities and said the investment would deliver a £750 million boost to the local economy and could create 50,000 new jobs across Devon and Somerset.
Announcing the investment, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Broadband is becoming just as essential to homes and businesses as electricity and telephone lines and it is now only a matter of time before people in these three new rural areas have access to the connection speeds more commonly associated with towns and cities.
“This is great news for people in Devon and Somerset, Wiltshire and Norfolk, but other councils will soon have the chance to bid for a nationwide funding programme. This is part of our plan for virtually every community in the UK to have access to superfast broadband.”
The Devon and Somerset bid, with support from Plymouth, North Somerset and Torbay Councils, was one of only three to get the go ahead from the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) Unit.
Local government politicians said Government backing means the Councils can press ahead with plans for a massive investment programme, likely to be in the region of £100 million. A super-fast broadband network from Plymouth to Weston-super-Mare will benefit 836,000 businesses and residents.
The Councils have pledged a £22 million investment towards the project. The Council partners confirmed they are seeking European funding and expect the project to attract significant private sector investment.
The Councils say that with the support of Government investment they will undertake an open and competitive procurement process to secure the best broadband solution or solutions that will meet the needs of Devon and Somerset.
David Hall, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Economic Development at Somerset County Council said: “This is great news and a measure of how important the Government sees broadband for Somerset and Devon. Our network will be vital in ensuring everyone in the South West from Bristol to The Isles of Scilly can access superfast broadband, whether in town or country.
“The bid was the result of a lot of hard work and recognising that by working together we could achieve a far greater outcome for our communities and our businesses. We are delighted that BDUK has acknowledged the quality of our partnership and our proposals, and we want to thank everyone who has contributed to making this bid a success.
“Our plan is to make sure that everyone has access to basic broadband by 2015, with at least 85% of premises having access to superfast broadband speeds and 100% by 2020.”
Jeremy Filmer-Bennett, Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership steering group, said: “This is excellent news from the Government and just what businesses throughout Devon and Somerset want to hear. Getting super-fast broadband is undoubtedly the top priority for our businesses and rolling out a high speed network is likely to boost productivity by around £750 million and create up to 50,000 jobs over the next few years.
“We have had great support from our MPs and MEPs and our local government politicians have done a terrific job in responding to the needs of the business community and leading on this. It has very quickly demonstrated the importance of local enterprise partnerships.”
Businesses and residents are asked to complete the online Demand Registration Survey the results of which will be used in securing the best broadband solution to meet the needs of Devon and Somerset.