Bath and North East Somerset Council is to join with Somerset and Devon County Councils to access Government funding to deliver Broadband internet throughout the area.
Marking a victory for campaigners in the area, the authority’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet last night agreed to drop its opposition to the plan, marking a U-turn from the Council’s previous decision not to join the Broadband bidding process. It was agreed by the Cabinet that the Council will now join Somerset and Devon to draw up a Local Broadband Plan to secure Government funding towards the project.
However, due to the lateness of B&NES’s decision, the plan will mean fewer households getting a lower than hoped internet speed. The plan will mean only 85% of households in the area getting 20mbps or more internet speeds, with the Council will be putting in up to £690,000 of its own money for the project.
The news has been welcomed by Conservative councillors, who supported calls for the Council to improve the area’s Broadband connections and challenged the Liberal Democrat Cabinet’s previous decision to opt-out of the bidding process with neighbouring South Gloucestershire and Bristol Councils.
Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development Councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones and Councillor Martin Veal (Cons, Bathavon North), who led the call-in of the previous decision, both spoke at the public Cabinet meeting urging the Cabinet to reverse its previous decision and join the Broadband bid. Cllr Anketell-Jones commented:
“It’s great news that the Liberal Democrats have dropped their opposition to joining the Government’s Broadband investment programme. This U-turn is a real victory for all those residents and local businesses who have attended council meetings and written in to urge the Cabinet to agree this investment.”
B&NES is now having to work with Somerset and Devon County Councils instead of its originally planned partners of Bristol and South Gloucestershire after South Gloucestershire Council agreed to work with Wiltshire and Swindon Councils due to the fact B&NES originally decided to drop out. In March last year, the previous Conservative Cabinet agreed its preference to start work on a joint Broadband-plan with its neighbouring authorities in the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, though did not rule out working with Somerset if that option became preferable.
Cllr Anketell-Jones added:
“It’s a shame that it took a call-in of the original decision and a warning from the Secretary of State to get here, but what is most important is that our area won’t now miss out on this vital opportunity. The Council will have to put in some of its own funding to deliver the broadband improvements, but this will also unlock Government investment to support the project. This will mean that the vast majority of local residents will be able to access fast, reliable Broadband internet, whether in rural or urban areas. It will also help give our local economy and small businesses a boost at a time when they need it the most.
“The Council must now work quickly to catch up and develop its Local Broadband Plan so that the funding can be secured.”.