Breckland Council’s £950,000 broadband investment prompts ‘town versus country’ debate
Archant © 2013
A decision to invest £950,000 of public money to improve Breckland’s broadband infrastructure prompted a “town versus country” argument among councillors.
The district council gave its formal approval to invest the money, in order to bring superfast internet speeds to thousands more homes and businesses which won’t be reached by private-sector projects.
Labour group leader Terry Jermy, who represents the Saxon ward in Thetford, agreed with the cabinet’s earlier recommendation to invest, but said the people in his town had questioned why the investment was needed.
He said: “I greatly support rural communities and when we talk about infrastructure, our rural areas can often be forgotten. But I represent a town, and I know very little about living in a rural area. I have spoken to those people and I have listened to our rural representatives, but I stand by my principle concern, which is that I don’t see how it can be appropriate that so much taxpayers’ money is being spent on this.”
The Tory-controlled council’s leader Michael Wassell said: “I find it quite sad that the leader of the opposition sees himself as a representative of a town. He needs to represent the whole of Breckland.
“A lot of the areas covered by this money will be in towns, including our biggest town. So it is not about investing in rural. It is about investing in the district.”
Councillor Philip Cowen added: “Every one of our representatives on this district council relies on the internet and the rural areas are exceedingly badly served. This is a chance to do something for the people we represent, and this money represents a drop in the ocean against what we have spent in urban areas, and in particular in Thetford.”
Mr Jermy responded by saying it was “very sad” that the discussion had descended into a “village versus town” argument.
He said: “I have no issue with serving ‘one Breckland’. I have a role as the leader of the opposition, but I also have a role as a Thetford ward councillor. I have spoken to a lot of people who are totally against us spending this money, but I have decided on balance that it is something we need to do.”
After the recommendation was agreed, Mr Wassell said: “We see this as an essential investment in the future prosperity of the district, ensuring the maximum superfast broadband benefit for Breckland.”
Breckland has already benefited from the £41m Better Broadband for Norfolk programme which will give 80pc of properties access to high speed broadband of 24 Mbps (megabits per second) and above by December 2015.
The £950,000 approved by Breckland earlier today will ensure the deployment can extend to the most difficult to reach homes and businesses.