MPs fight for better broadband for Norfolk
The vital battle for better broadband for families and businesses will be ramped up today when Norfolk's MPs join forces to persuade the government that the county deserves a multi-million boost to speed up internet connections.
Norfolk's MPs and the leader of Norfolk County Council will this afternoon meet Ed Vaizey, secretary of state for communication, culture and the creative industries, to urge him to pump money into improving the county's creaking broadband infrastructure.
Earlier this month, Norfolk County Council submitted a bid for a �15m grant from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the government body which is distributing funding for better broadband.
That 29-page bid followed the two-week Broadband: Back the Bid campaign run in the EDP, which garnered the support of almost 200 local businesses.
BDUK is assessing 25 applications for the funding, which aims to help communities struggling with super-slow internet connections and the MPs are hoping their united front will further strengthen the county council's case.
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Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'We are doing our bit to back the bid by lobbying the minister together about the vital need for superfast broadband for Norfolk.
'Personally, I feel very strongly about this. It's not just a rural problem, but also affects the urban areas.
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'It is vital for economic success to open up internet infrastructure and it's just as important to the county as the roads and the railways.'
Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, said: 'This meeting is an important opportunity to discuss Norfolk County Council's bid for investment in high speed broadband at the highest level.
'Norfolk is one of the worst counties in the country when it comes to broadband provision. On current projections, three out of every five households in Norfolk will still be unable to access superfast broadband by 2015.
'This puts services for businesses, families, and public services in the county at a real disadvantage. We aim to make sure that the minister leaves the meeting with the clear understanding of why this is so important for Norfolk, and why all the county's MPs are united in their support for better broadband.'
BDUK has �530m to award during this parliament, although it is only expected to hand out �50m to between three and five schemes during this round of bids.
But, if its bid is successful, Norfolk County Council hopes to create new infrastructure which would give every person in the area access to internet speeds of at least 2Mbps.
The county council – which would match the hoped-for �15m from BDUK with �15m of its own cash – has already begun preparing so work can quickly start if the grant is awarded.
If the bid does succeed, it is reckoned improvements will boost the local economy by an extra �401m over the next decade, create 1,337 jobs and provide faster broadband access for 93,000 properties.
Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, is also attending the meeting in London and said: 'The key thing as far as Norfolk County Council is concerned is that we are ready to go now. 'Our bid has been really well put together and it is a very strong bid. What I want to see is an indication as to to how Ed Vaizey regards it in terms of its strength. 'We have come together to get what is essential for Norfolk. An enormous amount of effort has been put into this and we sincerely hope it is good to be successful.'
A formal announcement of the successful bids is due to be made around Friday, May 27.
The MPs will be hoping the unified voice will reap similar dividends as when a similar approach was adopted to get the final stretch of the A11 dualled.
Months of concerted pressure from the county council, Norfolk MPs and the business community, all highlighted in the EDP, was rewarded when, in 2008, the government agreed to bring forward plans to dual the last stretch of the A11.