Access to internet and mobile phone coverage are 'basic human rights' Yorkshire's rural areas need, say commissioners

Commissioners behind a ground-breaking report have claimed that the countryside’s communities need to be brought into the 21st century to help drive forward Yorkshire’s economy and provide a basic “human right” to access for internet and mobile phone coverage.

Online connectivity in rural parts of North Yorkshire is lagging behind urban areas, hindering economic growth and leaving tens of thousands of businesses and households plunged into technology blackspots.

Research by the North Yorkshire Rural Commission has revealed that a fifth of all rural areas in the county have no broadband connection, compared with seven per cent in urban areas.

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And more than a third of North Yorkshire has no mobile phone coverage, mainly concentrated in sparse places.

The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson

The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson, who is the chairman of the commission, told The Yorkshire Post: “Digital connectivity has to be among the biggest issues holding the countryside back, as internet and mobile coverage are such a huge part of modern life.

“The Government must see digital connectivity as a basic human right for people living in remote rural areas as much as it is for people in urban areas.

“But that is not to say that this one issue has to be taken in isolation, as all the topics which the commission has investigated are intrinsically linked. To find a solution to them all, there needs to be a co-ordinated and sustained effort, bringing the public and private sectors together as well as the actual communities to resolve these long-standing issues.”

Among the proposals put forward by the commission to tackle the technology divide is a digital inclusion group established by the National Park authorities for the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.

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The Department for Communities, Media and Sport has also been urged to place a higher priority on digital inclusion in rural communities and use the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund to set out a strategic approach for North Yorkshire and other sparsely populated areas.

Efforts are already under way to help boost connectivity after the county council has invested £85m and launched a company, NYnet Limited, to improve digital and broadband services across North Yorkshire.

However, the commission was informed by communities of particular difficulties with connectivity in old buildings, traditional homes and outside spaces.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Carl Les, welcomed the work of the independent Rural Commission, and said he hoped its findings would drive forward plans for local government reorganisation to pave the way for a devolution deal to mirror the arrangements in place in West and South Yorkshire.

A bid document which has been prepared by the council sets out a series of requests to the Government totalling £2.4bn which would be spent over a 30-year period on issues including infrastructure, rural transport, skills and education.

Coun Les said: “The commission was established to find a way forward to what are some of the biggest challenges which North Yorkshire faces - as well as other rural areas of the country.

“It was never meant to be an anodyne venture, and its findings might not find support with everyone. But I am looking forward to looking at its findings and mapping out a way forward - its recommendations will be acted upon as they are vital to the future of North Yorkshire.”

The Rural Commission met 20 times taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.