Council defends missed target for free public WiFi in Harrogate and Ripon

Plans for free public WiFi in Harrogate's town centre won't meet their initial September target date.
Plans for free public WiFi in Harrogate's town centre won't meet their initial September target date.

Harrogate Borough Council have moved to explain why a highly-publicised plan to have free WiFi installed in Harrogate and Ripon's town centre in time for the UCI Road World Championships has missed deadline.

The council's cabinet voted in April to appoint a telecommunications operator to install WiFi in the town centres by September this year, with an eye on thousands of visitors to the cycling championships being able to connect to the Internet when races pass through the district's population centres.

Speaking at the time, the council's deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development, Graham Swift, said the move was about making the district "digitally leading-edge".

The tender opportunity was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union, with the council earlier this year selecting one operator out of two applicants, although the successful party wasn't publicly revealed.

However that deal appears to have fallen through last month, with an update to the contract portal stating the contract was not awarded due to a "discontinuation of procedure".

In a statement, Coun Swift said that installing public WiFi "remains a priority" for the authority, but "such a project requires many coordinated partners".

"It was also always a desire to have it rolled out in Harrogate town centre ahead of the UCI Road World Championships, but it was never a certainty and commissioning such a project requires many coordinated partners," Coun Swift said.

"Public WiFi remains a priority for us as part of our Digital Harrogate programme."

The move for free public WiFi was first endorsed by the cabinet almost two years ago in October 2017.
"Of course in 2019 we have a big programme on cycling with the world championships taking place," Coun Swift said at the time.

"Clearly we'll be live by then and people will be able to use that as a communication tool throughout the programme."

Plans for greater Internet accessibility isn't limited to Harrogate and Ripon's town centres.

While public WiFi was due to start in Harrogate and Ripon's town centres, the roll-out of town centre WiFi was then scheduled to continue to Knaresborough, followed by the installation of LPWAN in Harrogate - a low-power wide-area network, which will expand WiFi accessibility.

The contract advertised stated that Boroughbridge, Masham and Pateley Bridge would be incorporated if or when viable.

Coun Swift said the council was still undertaking work on other "smart solutions" such as AppyParking and digital inclusion projects, supported by Citizens Online, to ensure that communities across Harrogate are not digitally excluded.

"There is a lot of new work being carried out and we will continue to roll out projects in a bid to make Harrogate a blend of a modern town aligned to its wonderful spa heritage," Coun Swift said.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter