By CHRIS HILL
, Rural affairs correspondent
Thursday, February 28, 2013
A government official has given strong signals that a share of a £150m funding pot could be heading to Norfolk to improve the worst parts of the county’s patchy mobile phone network.
A representative from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) visited County Hall in Norwich yesterday to discuss what upgrades could be possible under the government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP).
The scheme has allocated £150m to improve the quality of mobile network services across the whole of the UK in areas defined as “complete not spots”, where mobile signals currently do not exist.
Those areas have been identified by industry regulator Ofcom using data provided by each of the mobile phone operators.
No exact locations have yet been released as to where any funded upgrades might happen, while survey work continues.
Ann Steward, the council’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “I got the very strong impression that the government is committed to helping Norfolk and the work going on at the moment will underpin where we can make that happen.
“I don’t want to give the message that we can cover the whole of Norfolk. But it was a really positive meeting in stating Norfolk’s case in trying to unlock something that we all know is an issue.”
After successfully campaigning for both public and private investment in internet upgrades, Norfolk County Council’s cross-party broadband working group has switched its focus to the mobile network.
“They (DCMS) are doing lots of study work to look at sites that have no coverage at all, and our working group will be involved in that,” said Mrs Steward.
“Planning permissions will be very important, but the very clear message is that if communities don’t want it they don’t have to have it. At the same time, we need to recognise it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get mobile infrastructure into place. It is a fine balance, but it won’t be something that is forced on people.”
Funds have already been confirmed through the MIP scheme for improving mobile signal along the A143 corridor, between Great Yarmouth and Haverhill.
The DCMS is currently at the procurement stage of the project, and is seeking a national contractor to build and run the new infrastructure.
Ofcom has provided a list of about 80,000 UK premises which have been termed “complete not spots” – although no detailed information has been released on how many are in Norfolk.
Initial government costing assessments have suggested that, subject to a range of cost variables and planning permission, about two thirds of those premises could see improvements to their phone signals – assuming mobile network operators are prepared to provide coverage from the installed infrastructure.