Free public wifi project gets Harrogate cabinet backing

The first steps have been taken to introduce free public wifi access across the district's six major centres.

Harrogate Borough Councillors gave unanimous approval for the outline plans to the 'Harrogate Connectivity Project' at a meeting of Cabinet on Wednesday (October, 18).

There is currently no universally accessible wifi service within the district

There is currently no universally accessible wifi service within the district

Once in place online access will be available for all within the centres of Harrogate, Knaresborough, Pateley Bridge, Boroughbridge, Masham and Ripon 24 hours-a-day. As part of the project a mobile app will also be developed, building on this access to provide smart parking, tourism and business opportunities for the district.

A deadline has been set for providing access to the networks in these areas by 2019, coinciding with the arrival of the arrival of the UCI Road Cycling World Championships.

Deputy Leader for HBC, coun Graham Swift said at the meeting: "We have a global event coming in 2019 and this is will be a big thing to actively demonstrate why Harrogate is in the top 15 places to visit in the UK."

With major events, such as the UCI championships, the council plan for the mobile app to offer visitors access to information including timetables and potential competitions.

There is currently no universally accessible wifi service within the district, a situation that the council believe is leaving Harrogate at a disadvantage compared to the nearby authorities of York and Leeds who have public access in place.

It is believed that for high streets to remain sustainable in a digitally dominated world this is a basic offering needed for a competitive town or city centre to improve access to services and offer more opportunities for businesses.

The 'instagrammability' of an area, how well pictures of the location perform when posted online, was flagged in a report to the cabinet. This was due to research indicating it influences where younger people plan where they visit, it is believed that tourism to the area will be boosted by the project when combined with Harrogate's current performance as a popular visitor centre.

The decision to offer access across the district was welcomed on the day by Cabinet members.

Coun Lumley, Cabinet member for Culture, Tourism and Sport said: "I have to say I am really pleased to see this is planned to be rolled out and not just in Harrogate but across the area, to market towns and treating everyone the same throughout the district."

Traffic flow could be improved through plans for the app to offer smart parking, directing users to available spaces nearby. It is believed this will reduce the number of cars that remain on the road searching for a space.

Coun Philip Ireland, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Transport said: "I am really excited about the smart parking aspect, anything which reduces the traffic flow will be a real asset for us and a move in the right direction."