Joy as government backs EDP’s bid to bring better broadband to Norfolk

Norfolk's dream of providing broadband access for all is set to become a reality after the government backed a �15m bid to lead the county into the information and economic fast lane.

Business and council leaders are celebrating the success of the combined 'Back the Bid' campaign spearheaded by Norfolk County Council and the EDP for a share of a �530m national fund held to improve broadband availability.

The government will today confirm that it is supporting the council's own �15m investment pound for pound, and with the private sector also expected to bring in �30m, that means there will be a combined �60m investment to help deliver superfast broadband to large swathes of Norfolk by March 2015.

Norfolk was one of three bids to share in a slice of a �50m pot, with the government also supporting proposals from Wiltshire, and a combined bid from Devon and Somerset.

The investment will see every single property in Norfolk able to access 2Mbs minimum broadband speeds in the next four years, but superfast broadband available for most of the county.

But there was disappointment for Suffolk as its own bid did not succeed.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the news was one of the most significant announcements made in Norfolk in recent years alongside news that the A11 will also be dualled.

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'I am absolutely delighted that our ambition for Norfolk not to get left behind in the internet slow lane has been positively recognised today,' Mr Murphy said. 'This really is fantastic news for Norfolk and I am sure the 'Norfolk United' approach of ourselves, our MPs, businesses and the EDP speaking with one voice has been very helpful in ensuring our message has been heard so clearly in Westminster.

'With the internet central to virtually every aspect of modern life, our lack of broadband access has become a key concern for us. We simply could not afford to accept this, which is why we seized the opportunity for funding so firmly and backed our bid with hard cash.'

More than 200 businesses came forward to identify how slow broadband was limiting their growth and Norfolk's bid was endorsed by Norfolk's MPs and business organisations during the Back the Bid campaign run with the Eastern Daily Press during April.

But the bid also outlined the other social advantages of better broadband including helping to improve educational opportunities and attainment, reduce social exclusion, lower carbon dioxide emissions and traffic congestion by enabling more home working and provide online alternatives to travelling to meetings, the bank and the supermarket.

EDP editor Peter Waters said: 'This success has proven once again that if we all pull together - the councils, our MPs, and business, the public and the county's daily newspaper - then we can get things done to help the development and prosperity of Norfolk. This money could well prove the catalyst to help regenerate our rural economy and with improved Broadband communication we'll be a much more attractive location to do business.'

County Hall, which submitted a strong bid to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) in April, now hopes to award a contract with a supplier by September 2012 with work on the ground starting soon afterwards.

Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development, said improving the broadband network in Norfolk was one of the best investments the council could make in value for money terms to ensure the future economic success of the county.

'That's why we moved decisively to ensure substantial funds are available to deliver a broadband network that will put Norfolk in the fast lane - and help to keep us there,' she said. 'We have a strong team ready to deliver an exciting project which will bring a major boost to our businesses.'

Currently more than 50,000 private and commercial properties across the county are in broadband 'not spots', either having no broadband access or suffering very slow internet speeds of less than 2Mbs (megabits per second).

Independent research commissioned by the council shows the 'Better Broadband for Norfolk' project bid would create an additional 1,337 jobs and boost the county's economy by �401m over 10 years, by removing the barriers to growth, flexibility and efficiency experienced by many businesses and organisations, encouraging more company start ups, particularly in rural areas, and persuading more large national and international businesses to consider Norfolk as a more attractive location in which to do business.

Ian Mackie, council deputy leader said the investment would have a major impact for years to come.

'During our conversations with BDUK we stressed both the significant financial commitment of �15m the county council has offered to provide better broadband and our strong track record in successfully delivering major procurement projects with high calibre staff,' Mr Mackie said. 'We have clearly successfully demonstrated that improved broadband is a top priority for the council and the local business community. What is good for business is good for local jobs and I am delighted that this significant level of funding, using part of our Norfolk Infrastructure Fund, will deliver positive social outcomes in our large rural county.'

Mark Hodges, chairman of Shaping Norfolk's Future and chief executive of Aviva UK, said: 'This is tremendous news. Bringing superfast broadband to Norfolk is one of Shaping Norfolk's Future's top priorities and this funding will enable that to happen. The project will create jobs and be a huge boost for business. It will make Norfolk a much more attractive place for businesses to operate in.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'Winning the bid is fantastic news for Norfolk. Out of the 21 bids we were one of only three to succeed, so this really puts the region on the map. This will enable businesses to communicate more effectively and be instrumental in creating jobs for Norfolk and moving the economy forward.'

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said the decision was great news at a time when public finances were under such pressure.

'It's a tribute to the compaign and an acknowledgement of our potential,' Mr Freeman said. 'The key now is for all those involved to look creatively , at how best to use that money for maximum impact and benefit for communities.'

South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said the broadband roll-out would benefit both residents and businesses.

'Along with the A11, improvements in the rail network, the high speed broadband will significantly add to the overall improvement in Norfolk's infrastructure,' she said. 'From the city to the coast to the countryside, the economic boost for the county will be tremendous.'

Andy Wood, chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and chief executive of Adnams, said: 'I'm delighted that Norfolk has been successful in its bid. It shows that the Government is prepared to invest in our area when presented with a compelling economic case.

'I am naturally disappointed that Suffolk's bid has not yet received funding, particularly given the strength of its case. However it is important to stress that this is only the first round of funding and there will be several more. We believe the Suffolk bid was technically as good as any put forward. However we will be looking to see why the Suffolk bid was not as attractive as others and once we have that information we will aim to put that right.'

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 for 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.'

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