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Broadband boost for Norfolk is eyed, but County Hall would have to borrow £11m

PUBLISHED: 10:48 27 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:48 27 February 2018

Better Broadband could be heading for Norfolk. Pic: James Bass.

Better Broadband could be heading for Norfolk. Pic: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic / James Bass © 2011

Millions of pounds more could be ploughed into a programme to get superfast broadband access in Norfolk - but council bosses would have to borrow £11m to make it happen.

Tom Garrod, Norfolk county councillor for Wroxham and chairman of the council's digital innovation and efficiency committee. Pic: Norfolk ConservativesTom Garrod, Norfolk county councillor for Wroxham and chairman of the council's digital innovation and efficiency committee. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives

Councillors on Norfolk County Council’s digital innovation and efficiency committee will next week decide whether to borrow the cash, with officers saying the risk to taxpayers that they would not get the money back is low.

The situation has arisen because of an underspend and rebates from the nationwide Broadband Delivery UK contracts.

A share of that due to Norfolk, which has been getting superfast broadband installed across the county through its Better Broadband for Norfolk scheme.

A potential £11m is estimated to be available for Norfolk after 2023.

But the council would have to wait until then o get that cash, so officers are recommending that councillors give them the go-ahead to borrow the money before then to spend on getting more homes hooked up to superfast broadband.

Council officers say if the final rebate ends up being less than expected, it might not be enough to cover the repayment on the borrowing.

But they say the risk is low, as it is based on existing levels of broadband take-up, which has already been achieved.

A second opportunity, which would bring an extra £2m into Norfolk to make superfast broadband available to rural businesses, will also be discussed at next Tuesday’s meeting.

Officers are preparing a bid for a share of a £30m rural broadband grant pot offered by the government.

Tom Garrod, chairman of County Hall’s digital innovation and efficiency committee, said: “Our Better Broadband for Norfolk programme has already transformed broadband speeds for many people in the county, including in some of our most rural areas.

“We’re on course to increase superfast broadband access in Norfolk to 95pc by March 2020 but we need to do more to reach the final five per cent, and we’re absolutely committed to getting to 100 per cent coverage as soon as we can.

“Investing an additional £13m on top of the nearly £70m already spent or committed would help us reach thousands more homes and businesses in Norfolk and get us much closer to our goal of eliminating broadband inequality.”

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