Grants at risk if broadband delayed

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COUNCILS pledged millions of pounds from the Government to roll out superfast broadband have been given two months to submit their plans or risk losing the cash.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered local authorities to get moving as the Government seeks to install the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.

Earlier this year Mr Hunt offered £8.54m to councils around the Humber area and £6.34m to those in West Yorkshire to help roll-out high-speed access to remote areas. South Yorkshire received funding under Labour and North Yorkshire is one of four pilot areas pledged funding earlier.

Now Mr Hunt has warned councils they risk losing their grant – part of £530m pledged by the Government – if they do not submit plans for using it by February.

He said: “Superfast broadband is fundamental to our future economic success. Businesses need it to grow, the public will need it to access new services.

“Some local authorities will find these to be challenging targets. But I will not allow the UK to fall behind in rolling-out superfast broadband. Superfast broadband is simply too important for creating the growth we need to allow the roll-out to be delayed.”

The Government wants every home and business to have a basic broadband connection – two megabits per second (Mbps) – while 90 per cent are to have superfast access, 10 times quicker.

Councils are expected to top up the Government funding with resources of their own, or from Europe or other private sources.

Mr Hunt’s warning comes after the Countryside Alliance criticised the time it was taking four pilot schemes – including North Yorkshire – to get off the ground.

Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said the deadline was a “very welcome development that should inject some much needed momentum into the roll-out of rural broadband”.