Broadband boost in South West

£730,000 broadband boost for rural communities in the South
West

20 May 2010

Rural businesses and communities in the South West are set to
receive better and faster broadband after a £730,000 funding
boost.

The money – in the form of grant – has been given to
communities in Devon, Gloucestershire and Somerset by the Rural
Development Programme for England (RDPE). The funding aims to help
develop and encourage innovative approaches which address gaps in
rural broadband coverage.

The Devon and Somerset Rural Broadband Project is to get
£550,000 for four ‘cluster’ communities. It will involve deploying
a community-owned broadband structure in the Blackdown Hills and
Exmoor areas so that local businesses and communities can test
different solutions and approaches to broadband. They will then be
able to operate systems which will deliver the connectivity and
systems they need before producing a blue print for other areas to
follow.

The project, which will be managed by Devon County Council with
support from Somerset County Council, will focus on:

  • Working and engaging with local communities
  • Piloting rural broadband solutions
  • The benefits of a community-owned infrastructure
  • Developing and disseminating a blue print for rural
    community-owned broadband connectivity solutions

The project is due to start in May and is set for completion by
December 2010.

The second grant is for £180,000 and has been given to help
upgrade existing infrastructure and provide new lines to help boost
the availability and speed of broadband in the Forest of Dean. The
project bid was submitted by the place promotion organisation
Gloucestershire First as part of a drive to enhance business
innovation in the Forest. It worked closely with BT Openreach and
local businesses and community groups including Gloucestershire
Community Council, the Federation of Small Businesses and the
Forest of Dean District Council to research local need and develop
the bid.

The project aims to reach communities which would not normally
be targeted by the commercial market. It wants to install 5,000
lines to open up better broadband access to people and businesses
considered ‘hard to reach’. Such improvements will create and
retain jobs and make businesses more competitive in national and
international markets.

Nine bids were submitted to the RDPE from across the South West.
The funds are part of the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) to
help mitigate against the current impacts of the economic downturn
across Member States.

News of the successful bids was announced by David Fursdon, a
member of the South West RDA’s Board, at the Devon County Show
today (20 May)

“The South West RDA wants to encourage greater access to faster
broadband so that more businesses and communities can benefit from
more efficient and productive ways of working,” he said.

“Faster broadband means more businesses can become more
competitive globally and we are delighted to be able to maximise
benefits for the region from national investment plans and to work
with local authorities, agencies, business communities and other
partners in the public and private sectors to progress this
innovative and exciting work.”

“In granting awards for projects, we were looking at a clear
business case for investing in more rural areas. We were pleased
with the quality of the bids we received and it was a difficult
decision to choose between them. The Devon and Somerset proposal is
a particularly attractive project as it will test different
solutions and approaches, enabling rural communities not only to
design and develop systems but to deploy and operate them too so
that they will deliver the bandwidth and connectivity that they
need.”

“We were particularly impressed with the ground work that
Gloucestershire First had done with partners in both the private
and the public sectors to look at local needs and then develop its
bid.”

The news comes after an RDA survey showed that a fifth of Devon
is at risk of being left behind because of slow broadband access.
Separate analysis for Devon County Council shows that 22% of the
county has slow access to broadband, falling below the government
target. This reinforces the RDA’s figures. In a separate survey on
broadband speed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in June
2009, more than half of small businesses who responded said they
relied on the internet for up to 50% of their annual turnover.

Councillor William Mumford, cabinet member for Economic
Regeneration and Strategic Planning at Devon County Council said:
“We’re delighted to have secured the funding that will enable us to
increase Devon County Council’s commitment to and investment in
broadband.”

“Broadband is essential for the economic well-being of the
county and to ensure that rural Devon does not get left
behind.”

David Owen, Chief Executive of Gloucestershire First, said: “We
are pleased to have won this bid for Gloucestershire, which is all
about ‘real’ infrastructure: wire and physical broadband
connection. We look forward to working with local businesses to
check priorities in the Forest of Dean and co-ordinate practical
improvements to one of the cornerstones of business: good broadband
connection.”

Paul Goffe, local Region Organiser for the FSB in
Gloucestershire and the West of England said “This RDPE funding for
better broadband is excellent news for the Forest and the local
business environment. We will continue working with other
organisations to improve broadband speed and availability in the
area. To operate effectively and profitably, small businesses must
have the confidence in both the speed and reliability of their
broadband connection. Broadband is not an added luxury for SMEs but
an essential service similar to utilities such as the telephone and
electricity.”

He added “Many small companies in the area are ‘micro
businesses’ and home-based and rely on broadband technology to
function. It is important for the local rural economy that bad
service areas or ‘not spots’ are reduced and eliminated. This new
funding, together with more investment in the near future, should
ensure that the Forest of Dean has the right infrastructure to
support existing and new businesses.”

Ends

For further information or to arrange an interview, filming or
photo opportunity if you are not going to be at the Show, please
contact Hilary Allison at the South West RDA press office on 07901
994103 or (for the Devon and Somerset project) Liz Waugh at Coast
Marketing on 01752 847135 or 07966 388921 or Keri Denton at Devon
County Council on 01392 383684 and (for the Gloucestershire
project) Angela Presdee at Gloucestershire First on 01242
864191.

Note to editors

RDPE

The Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) runs from
2007 to 2013. It is the 2nd pillar of the Common Agricultural
Policy and aims to support the creation of genuinely sustainable
farming, forestry and food sectors, whilst also bringing wider
benefits for the economy, the environment and rural communities. It
provides the major financial vehicle for protecting and enhancing
the environment and securing a range of public benefits for
society. Defra is the Managing Authority.

The RDPE has three priorities for rural development:

1. Improving competitiveness of the agriculture and forestry
sectors
2. Improving the environment and the countryside
3. Improving the quality of life in rural areas and encouraging
diversification of economic activity

In this region, the South West RDA will deliver priorities 1and
3 with a budget of £156.8 million over the seven years. The RDA is
also responsible for ensuring that five per cent of the RDPE
funding is spent on enabling community involvement in rural
development. The delivery partners in the South West aim to ensure
that investment in each of the three priorities will help support
investment in the others.

The RDPE priority for improving the environment and the
countryside is being delivered nationally by the Forestry
Commission’s Woodland Grant Scheme and Natural England’s
Environmental Stewardship Scheme. In addition, a minimum of 5% of
the programme will be delivered through a local community-led
approach.

The aims, objectives and priorities for delivering RDPE in South
West England were agreed for the socio-economic investments with
regional partners and these are set out in the Regional
Implementation Plan. On the basis of a thorough analysis of South
West England’s rural characteristics and economy, the Plan sets out
eight themes:

i. Skills development
ii. Social enterprise
iii. Business support
iv. Supply chain and adding value
v. Resource management (soil, water, energy, waste)
vi. Sustainable rural tourism
vii. Biodiversity and landscape
viii. Community-led development

Organisations involved in delivering RDPE

The South West RDA leads the development of a
sustainable economy, investing to unlock the region’s business
potential. It works in partnership with public, private and social
purpose organisations to drive up the region’s productivity by
giving people the skills they need, encouraging enterprise,
improving infrastructure, regenerating places and promoting the
strengths of the region. For more information see www.southwestrda.org.uk

Natural England works for people, places and
nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and
wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. It conserves
and enhances the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the
wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it
brings. For more information see www.naturalengland.org.uk. Environmental
Stewardship (ES) was launched in 2005, builds on the very best
practice already evident in British farming. During the period
2007-13 the national budget for ES will be £2.9 billion. The
objectives of ES are to:

  • Conserve wildlife (biodiversity).
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character.
  • Protect the historic environment and natural resources.
  • Promote public access and understanding of the
    countryside.
  • Natural resource protection.

The Forestry Commission is the government
department responsible for forestry in Great Britain. It supports
woodland owners with grants, tree felling licences, regulation and
advice; promotes the benefits of forests and forestry; and advises
Government on forestry policy. For further information, visit
www.forestry.gov.uk/southwestengland.

SW RDA Board member, David Fursdon (centre) with Cllr William
Mumford of Devon County Council (left) and David Owen of
Gloucestershire First (right)