Column – Transport Talk with Don Mackenzie

Most of us receive superfast broadband from a cabinet like this.
Most of us receive superfast broadband from a cabinet like this.

My brief at North Yorkshire County Council covers access. In addition to highways, passenger transport, and public rights of way, it includes cyber access by means of broadband and mobile telephony.

Superfast broadband and mobile telephony

Good quality broadband is now considered an essential utility for homes and businesses.

If we live in a town, we are likely to be well provided with a commercial service, supplied from a nearby green cabinet with a fibre connection. Our home or office is usually linked to the cabinet by copper wire.

Others may be connected by means of high speed fixed wireless broadband or with fibre to the premise.

Superfast North Yorkshire (SFNY) is a company set up and owned by NYCC in 2011. Its purpose is to deliver superfast (that is 25Mbps or higher) broadband to every premise in the county that would not be able to receive the service from a commercial supplier.

SFNY has been leading the roll-out of superfast broadband in the so-called intervention area, which includes more than half of all premises in the county. Combined with superfast services offered commercially, the result is that more than 270,000 premises in North Yorkshire can now receive superfast broadband.

This covers almost 90 per cent of North Yorkshire homes and businesses.

So far, the expansion of superfast broadband by SFNY has been in two phases. Phase two is due to complete in June next year, by which time several more communities will have been connected up, including nearby villages like Farnham and Scotton.

We are currently selecting the supplier for phase three. The contract is worth up to £30m, with funding coming mainly from NYCC, with sizeable contributions from BDUK, a Government-supported organisation, and from the EU.

The average cost incurred by SFNY to connect each premise under phase one was £177. For phase two it is £559, and for phase three we expect this figure to rise significantly. As we press on into more remote villages and hamlets, costs go up.

By the end of phase three in 2020, there may still be up to five per cent of premises without superfast broadband, although alternatives to fixed connections, such as wireless or satellite, will have reduced that number even further.

The county council is targeting 100 per cent access to superfast for all our residents, no matter how remote or challenging their location.

That is the measure of the importance we attach to this utility. Good mobile phone coverage is another important service for our residents.

North Yorkshire County Council places the highest priority on improving mobile phone connectivity for everyone. The county’s chief executive, the business and environmental services director, and I have recently met with senior representatives of the four major mobile phone companies.

We made clear that we are prepared to help with all initiatives to expand 4G and other coverage, with the offer of highways or farm land for masts and other infrastructure, or even direct financial support.

Council investing in sustainable transport

The question of whether or not a new relief road for Harrogate and Knaresborough is required has prompted comments and letters to the media, suggesting that the county council faces a binary choice between either investing in a new road or spending more money on cycling and public transport.

That is wrong. We are intent on investing in both.

While no new road – leaving aside recently built housing estates – has been added to the highways infrastructure in Harrogate and Knaresborough for the last 25 years, considerable investment in cycle paths has taken place, and that will continue.

Notable local examples of such investment in just the last five years include the Bilton to Ripley cycle path (re-named the Nidderdale Greenway) and the creation of dual-use cycle paths on the Stray. As an example of really good partnership working, NYCC last month spent £50,000 in resurfacing a lengthy section of the Harrogate-Knaresborough cycle path on Bilton Lane, a project to which HBC and local householders contributed an additional £30,000.

More money to repair potholes

We welcome the Government’s recent decision to allocate a further £2.3m to NYCC for road repairs. This comes on top of the £1.6m awarded earlier this year, both amounts coming from the National Pothole Fund.

These awards will boost the £32m that the county council plans to spend on repairs for its 6,000 miles of highways between now and 2020.