Shropshire broadband boost hopes are dashed

Hopes have been dashed once more for a way of securing government cash to speed up snail-like broadband in Shropshire's rural areas.

But campaigners are urging rural communities to hold off taking matters into their own hands and starting their own broadband upgrade projects until a final decision is made by Shropshire Council.

The authority was awarded £11.38 million by Broadband Delivery UK, the Government project for broadband, at the end of February – but it can only access the money if it can match the same amount again.

The council has been working with pressure group the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband to raise the cash to improve speeds.

There were hopes that a slice of a £75 million government Growth Fund, due to be invested in the Marches region, could be used to help, but now the authority has been told this money cannot be used this year.

Patrick Cosgrove, spokesman for the campaign group, said it was another blow in the effort to unlock the £11.38m Broadband Delivery UK money, and other avenues would have to be explored. He said: "Despite it being permitted in other parts of the country, the long-awaited Growth Fund allocation for Shropshire seems unable to deliver any money that can be used for matching the £11.38m BDUK grant this year."

He said £7.5 million – 10 per cent of the full £75 million Growth Fund – was supposed to be for broadband in the region, but Shropshire Council and the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership had been told by the government's Department for Communities and Local Government that none of it could be used this year for putting broadband networks in place.

Callum McLagan, of for Shrophire Council's Connecting Shropshire programme, said: "We are still in discussions with both the LEP and those in Westminster about securing funding."

Telford & Wrekin and Herefordshire councils were also hoping to use some of the £7.5m from the Local Growth Fund this year for their own broadband projects.

Telford & Wrekin's cabinet this week approved plans to apply for £2 million from the Government's Broadband Delivery UK fund.

It wants to bring broadband of 24 megabits per second to 96 per cent of homes, which will ensure that users of the internet will be able to download films and access the internet at an instant.

If the application is successful, the broadband could roll-out across the borough as early as spring 2015. Telford & Wrekin Council will need to match fund the sum and said it has already made £1.4 million available. The total costs of delivering the scheme are estimated to be £200,000 so the council's total contribution if successful would be £2.2m.

The council will submit a bid for the balance of funding to the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, although a decision is not expected for several months.

If the bid is unsuccessful, the council will either ask for the amount it is able to match fund or borrow the remaining £800,000. Cabinet moved to approve that borrowing if it is needed.

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