Cities’ joint bid wins share of internet funding

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Homes and businesses in Leeds and Bradford should soon have access to ultra-fast broadband after being were chosen to become two of the country’s first “super connected” cities.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the two cities could together receive as much as £15m from a £100m pot of tax cash to help drive growth and attract new business.

Money will also go to London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle.

By 2015 it is hoped the scheme – unveiled in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement last year – will provide ultra-fast broadband coverage for 1.7m households and 200,000 businesses in high growth areas as well as high-speed wireless broadband for 3m residents.

The Government will provide £50m more for a second wave of 10 smaller cities.

Leeds City Council leader Councillor Keith Wakefield said: “I am very pleased that we have been successful in our joint bid to become one of the first super connected cities. This funding will enable us to accelerate the transformation of our cities, putting in place digital connections amongst the best in Europe.

“This will be a major attraction to business and will help in attracting further investment to both cities to support our economic growth ambitions.”

Bradford Council leader Coun Ian Greenwood said the investment would support jobs in Bradford and in the wider region in coming years.

“I very much welcome today’s announcement,” he said. “Creating a super-fast broadband network will be essential to ensure our businesses are able to take advantage of the opportunities of enhanced digital connectivity and remain competitive.”

Leeds and Bradford submitted a joint bid. Sheffield was also in the running but was not chosen.

Virgin Media chief executive Neil Berkett welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement, saying super-fast broadband could transform communities.

He added: “Competition in the broadband market has led to significant progress but there remain some areas where market-led investment alone will not deliver.

“We welcome this extra public investment which could benefit thousands of people by supporting genuinely next-generation solutions that multiple providers can build services around.”

Age UK’s head of digital inclusion, David Mortimer, said the arrival of super-fast broadband could help encourage older people to get online. “It’s great news for the people of Bradford that they are going to be super-connected,” he said. “The internet offers something for everyone, such as reducing isolation and loneliness through social media such as email, Skype and Facebook, yet we know that millions of older people have never been online.

“Therefore I’d urge anyone who already uses the internet to spend some time helping an older friend, family member or neighbour to get online”

The Government also said it will extend mobile coverage to 60,000 rural homes and along at least 10 key roads by 2015, including the A169 in North Yorkshire.