Norfolk’s bid for slice of broadband funding

Norfolk is gearing up to bid for a slice of �530m of government money to help bring the next generation broadband to the majority of the county, it emerged last night.

The money has been made available to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) which was set up by the government to bring superfast broadband within reach of both urban and rural communities.

Representatives from the county have already started to explore the type of bids BDUK will be looking for in its goal of ensuring that homes and businesses across the country are able to access a decent level of connectivity.

The cost of achieving broadband speeds of up to 40 megabits per second to 85pc of the county is expected to soar over the �60m mark but a successful bid to BDUK could eat a huge chunk out of this.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future, said: 'We had a very positive initial meeting with the BDUK team and over the next few weeks we will be working with our county council colleagues to develop a bid for Norfolk.

'I am confident the county will get BDUK funding and if we do, it will be a large step forward for better broadband coverage for Norfolk.

'There are no guarantees in any of this because the bidding process will be competitive but we will be working hard to ensure Norfolk's bid is a strong one.'

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Guidance on submitting bids for funding from BDUK will be issued this month with the deadline for submitting bids in April.

But early indications suggest bids from rural counties with upper tier authorities as the lead are preferred. The government has also said it would like remote areas to benefit from the rapid roll out of super-fast broadband at the same time as more populated areas.

Mr Starkie continued: 'It is pleasing that the money is being targeted at rural counties like Norfolk because businesses and households across the county need faster broadband for so many reasons.

'Improving broadband coverage here is a key priority for us because faster broadband speeds will help improve the county's economic performance.'

Mr Starkie added that it is unlikely the county will be awarded the total amount needed for next generation broadband by BDUK and that commericial suppliers, such as BT, would be asked to fill the gap.

Ann Steward, cabinet member for sustainable development, has said the county council will 'fight hard' to ensure Norfolk gets the broadband infrastrucutre it deserves.

She said: 'We all know that broadband is the future and that it is becoming a necessity but in some areas we don't even have the most basic infrastructure.

'We are aware of the money that is there and we are going all out to get as much as we can. Our message to BDUK is quite simple; help us get the broadband speed we deserve.'

Richard Dix, from West Norfolk company Rural Broadband, has said a successful bid to BDUK would be a 'huge leap forward' for next generation broadband in the county.

He added: 'It will cost more in some areas to enable this but it will be worth it because it will be a huge boost to the Norfolk economy.

'It will also allow business to stay local rather than having to move to areas where there is faster broadband.'

Mr Dix added the 15pc missing out on next generation broadband will be mainly farms and other areas too remote to be connected.

John Denham, shadow business secretary, has also lent his support for Norfolk's fight for better broadband speed after a meeting in with business leaders in Norwich yesterday.

He said: 'Norwich has a really thriving business community, but they told me they are really concerned about the standard of broadband.

'Broadband speeds are not good and the government has delayed universal broadand which is a real problem.

'There are concerns about the A11 and speeding up rail travel to London, but the infrastructure of broadband is just as important.'

This potential broadband boost comes as more than 4,000 residents and businesses across Norfolk have registered their need for a next generation broadband service with the Eastern Region Broadband Uplift Scheme.

It is hoped this high demand will encourage commercial suppliers to invest in infrastructure and deliver next generation broadband in the East of England.

It also comes as work continues to develop a co-ordinated overall plan to provide broadband coverage options for the whole of the county.

The plan, called Broadband for Norfolk, aims to set out the current picture of broadband provision in Norfolk, the expected development of commercial broadband and priority areas for investment.

It will also set out information on potential models to improve broadband provision in Norfolk including the likely funding gap, above possible commercial investment, based on achieving 85pc coverage across the county.

To help develop the plan, a pilot of local Wi-Fi technology has been carried out in Hilgay, near Downham Market, and a further pilot of long range Wi-Fi technology at both Hilgay and West Dereham are planned.