Bexhill and Battle MP’s conference on rural broadband

Huw Merriman hosts the conference
Huw Merriman hosts the conference

Bexhill and Battle’s MP Huw Merriman met with parish and district councils from across his constituency to discuss how broadband and mobile phone reception in rural communities should be improved.

He organised and chaired the parish conference at Great Dixter in Northiam, near Rye.

It was attended by representatives from 23 of the 28 parish and town councils from the 200 square miles of the Bexhill and Battle constituency. They were joined by district and county councillors from across Rother and Wealden.

Parish and town councillors expressed frustration that the roll-out of broadband and mobile phone reception had not reached all parts of the community, with rural areas particularly lacking.

Katy Thomas, manager of East Sussex County Council’s (ESCC) economic development team, which manages the e-Sussex project, said the council had just embarked on the scheme’s next stage, which aims to fund parts of the rural community where commercial broadband providers will not invest.

She also talked about the council’s plans to reach as close to 100 per cent coverage as possible as ESCC’s cabinet has just approved a third phase of the project. The conference was shown maps of the constituency which show the projected broadband coverage over the coming years. By end of 2017 it is anticipated that some 95 per cent of premises across East Sussex will have access to reliable fibre broadband infrastructure.

Stacey King, BT’s south east director, explained how parishes across the country have worked together to fill in gaps in broadband coverage with local parish, community and grant funding.

Speaking after the conference, Mr Merriman said: “It was great to have a room full of parish, town, district and county councillors working as one to deliver for the community.

“This week, I discussed the conference’s broadband frustrations with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Support and was delighted by the subsequent announcement that £1bn will be added to the broadband roll-out fund which we can access locally. and from April 2017, the government will also provide a new 100 per cent business rates relief for new full-fibre infrastructure for a five-year period.”

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