Broadband row erupts

REPORTS of cuts to Northumberland broadband funding have been dismissed as scare-mongering by council chiefs.

Northumberland County Council is working with its development arm Arch and BT in an £18.9million scheme to provide high-speed Internet connection across the county.

BT plans to roll out fibre-based superfast broadband to 91 per cent of properties, while all households should have some access.

But Northumberland Conservative Group Leader and Ponteland member Peter Jackson has accused the council of slashing £713,000 from the project, as well as cutting its staffing. He says the plans have been ‘decimated’ and it is now doubtful whether some areas in the north and west of the county will benefit.

“The plan now looks to be in chaos,” he said.

“Despite funding being made available from the Government, without the local team in place it looks impossible for the county to deliver on its promise to serve our rural areas with superfast broadband.

“Given what we now know, a huge question mark hangs over whether those areas will ever receive high-speed broadband provision.

“It now looks to be a very bleak picture for those rural communities who have been desperately waiting for superfast broadband. We need urgent answers from the county council’s leader as to whether the planned rural broadband roll-out will now go ahead as planned.”

Coun Jackson has written to Council Leader Grant Davey for an explanation.

But the Labour Administration has strongly rejected his claims, saying the council has ‘clawed back’ more than £700,000 from the BT contract amid fears that the most rural areas could have missed out on fibre-optic provision over cost.

Members say the cash can now be used to plug a gap in digital coverage for 700 properties.

Council Business Chairman and Druridge Bay member Scott Dickinson said: “It’s true that central government budget decisions have had an impact on the project team, but it’s untrue to suggest that this has had any impact on the overall programme.

“It’s up to Northumberland Conservatives to explain to the residents of up to 700 homes who may not get access to broadband why their plan is better.

“We’re absolutely confident that we have a committed team of professionals who will roll out broadband within the plan and we’re committed to delivering the first phase to Alnmouth, Lesbury and Widdrington Station as per the plan.

“We won’t let the Conservatives play politics with this, we think it’s too important.”