Free wi-fi in North Yorkshire market towns has come 'years too late'

The roll-out of free wi-fi across parts of North Yorkshire has come "years too late" and should have been prioritised in areas with poor mobile coverage, a councillor has claimed.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 1:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 1:52 pm
Free wi-fi in market towns has come ‘years too late’, a councillor has said.

A total of 16 market towns across the county are included in the roll-out which is being funded by £3.6m from the government’s Getting Building Fund.

It has been hailed by North Yorkshire County Council as a boost for areas with limited internet access, as well as a measure to support businesses and draw people back into town centres.

But Conservative councillor David Staveley, who represents the Ribblesdale area in the Yorkshire Dales, said many people now rely on mobile data which has wider coverage and that rural areas should have been the priority.

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"This is about five years too late," he told a county council meeting on Friday.

"Everybody has got that much data on their mobile phones nowadays that you don't necessarily need to be piggybacking onto wi-fi networks. But there are areas, particularly rural towns, where you have got black spots.

"Where our honeypot destinations are up in the hills we get massive footfall, but many people struggle to get a 4G signal.

"Maybe those would have been a better target."

Gary Fielding, corporate director of strategic resources at the county council, said the government funding came at "very short notice" and with constraints on how it could be spent.

He told councillor Staveley: "We have not been able to prioritise in the way that you have described.

"Would we have preferred to have done it in that way? Of course we would have, but we have just unashamedly and pragmatically grabbed hold of some extra funding to do what we can.

"I hope those areas enjoy it and make the most of it, but if it was given to us as free money we would have done it differently."

Mr Fielding also said the wi-fi had benefited several business parks and was used by council workers including waste collection and highways teams.

He added that Ripon was "surprisingly" the area which had seen the greatest usage.

He said: "Harrogate and Scarborough's are larger schemes, but Ripon is the one which has had the most connectivity. Clearly there is lots of demand there so I suspect it is a very welcome development."

Other areas which are part of the roll-out include Knaresborough, Northallerton, Leyburn, Selby, Stokesley, Pickering, Skipton, Malton, Richmond and Whitby.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter