18/01/2016

Twenty-first century superfast broadband has arrived at one of the highest and most remote sections of historic Hadrian’s Wall.

Sixteen households and businesses along a remote stretch of the Military Road at Once Brewed can now get fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) superfast speeds of up to 330Mbps, thanks to the iNorthumberland broadband programme.

One of those premises is currently little more than a building site, but in 2017 it will be transformed into The Sill, National Landscape Discovery Centre, a major education centre and visitor attraction, which is predicted to deliver substantial economic benefits with around £5 million of additional visitor spending in the region every year.

Stuart Evans, Northumberland National Park project director for The Sill, said: “The Sill’s main purpose is to open up Northumberland National Park and the surrounding areas to more people, helping them learn about and explore one of Britain’s finest landscapes. The new building will offer a huge range of facilities including a Rural Growth Hub to support the development of rural enterprises, office space and meeting rooms, YHA hostel accommodation, state-of-the-art interactive exhibition space with education and training rooms, a shop and local produce café.

“To be able to provide all these services and create the very best visitor experience possible, superfast broadband is crucial. Visitors will be able to use our wi-fi to interact with exhibits, post photos and share videos on social networking sites in seconds. Universities, colleges and schools will be able to offer high quality study trips from the heart of the national park knowing they will have fast access to online and in-Cloud educational materials.

“The operational and business benefits that fibre broadband will bring are also considerable. Superfast will make our online booking systems, card payment and electronic point of sale equipment faster and more efficient for customers. It will also help to attract local businesses to base themselves at The Sill where they can work in a stunning rural setting with the advantage of 21st century connectivity for high speed file and data transfer and virtual collaboration with colleagues and customers through conference and video calls.”

The Sill represents the largest scale initiative of its kind in the history of National Parks across the UK. It was awarded £7.75 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and is currently the biggest HLF grant awarded to a national park as well as one of the largest grants awarded in the North East this century.

Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “The tourism industry is extremely important to Northumberland, particularly in areas like this right next to the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. The Sill is a key tourism development for Northumberland – bringing visitor, education and business services to this rural part of the county, and the council is a strong supporter of the project.  It’s very pleasing that the iNorthumberland project has been able to bring superfast broadband to support the facilities and services to be provided here, as well as to homes and other businesses in the area.”

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, said: “I’m really pleased to be here today in one of my constituency’s most remote communities, where people can now access some of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK. For people living and working in rural areas faster broadband speeds are absolutely vital. Improved connectivity levels the playing field for our businesses, enables people to work better from home, schoolchildren to access online homework effectively and makes our communities more sustainable. I would encourage anyone who can upgrade to do so and see how it can benefit them.”

Bringing fibre broadband to Once Brewed has not been easy. Rural geographies present engineers with many difficulties not faced in more urban areas. Temporary traffic lights can be needed for stretches of narrow winding roads and new underground ducting and specialist equipment required to clear or replace underground ducts.

Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “Getting fibre to rural locations is no easy task, but it’s a very important one. This is a great achievement and is testament to the dedication of the planners and engineers from BT’s local network business, Openreach, who have spent thousands of hours planning and laying hundreds of kilometres of underground fibre optic cable.

“In this small and very rural community there are farms, a pub, a hotel and a youth hostel as well as residential premises, all of whom can reap huge benefits from faster internet connections. Hadrian’s Wall, a massive feat of Roman engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, now stands side by side with superfast broadband, one of the biggest feats of civil engineering to be undertaken in Northumberland for many years.”

More than 145,000 households and businesses in Northumberland are now able to connect to fibre broadband as a result of the iNorthumberland programme and BT’s commercial roll-out of the high-speed technology.

In West Northumberland around 30,000 households and businesses can now access the new technology in areas including parts of Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Haltwhistle, Blanchland, Falstone, Bellingham, Newbrough, Humshaugh, Greenhaugh, Wylam, Stocksfield and Riding Mill. Further upgrades will follow in the coming months.

The iNorthumberland broadband programme, a key part of the council’s growth investment, is being delivered by Northumberland County Council and BT. BT was awarded the iNorthumberland contract in April 2013 following a procurement exercise through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework.A second phase contract was signed in June which will see more than £4.1 million invested in the programme area in addition to the £18.9 million initially invested by Northumberland County Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) fund, BT and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The majority of premises in Northumberland will be getting access to some of the best broadband speeds in the UK via iNorthumberland and the commercial roll-out of fibre by BT’s local network business, Openreach. Openreach’s network is open to all broadband service providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Northumberland households and businesses can benefit from highly competitive products and pricing from a range of providers. For up to date information on the roll-out visit www.inorthumberland.org.uk

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