A North Yorkshire MP has urged the Government to make sure the hardest-to-reach areas of the county benefit from a £500m programme to improve mobile coverage by installing new telecommunications masts.
Rishi Sunak has written to the Home Office urging it to publish as much information as possible about the nine masts planned for his Richmond constituency to allow mobile operators to use them to improve their coverage.
Mr Sunak, a junior housing Minister, says mobile operator Vodafone has contacted him and claimed it is being “starved of information” about the new masts, meaning they cannot make decisions about whether to use the new equipment.
The Home Office, working with the commercial network operator EE, is building 700 new masts around the UK to provide a new communications network for the emergency services.
The multi-billion-pound project, approved by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, is supposed to replace the existing radio system, Airwave, by the end of next year.
As part of the roll-out of the new Emergency Services Network, the Government is funding 300 masts in rural areas to meet the needs of the 999 services and extend commercial mobile phone and 4G broadband coverage.
I do think the Government should do all it can to provide the information as soon as practicably possible.Rishi Sunak
In total, five masts have been granted permission in the Yorkshire Dales as part of the scheme, with an application for a sixth for a 15-metre (49ft) mast at Braidley in Coverdale made to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority last month.
Mr Sunak, a Conservative MP, has written to Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd urging the Home Office to publish as much information about local sites, such as the exact location, the proposed timetable and how many operators each site is built to support.
He said the presence of new shareable masts in areas like the Yorkshire Dales was no guarantee that other operators would consider it commercially viable to place their equipment on the masts, but that they should be given the opportunity to do so.
The letter said: “I am sure you will agree that it is vital that Government uses this one-off opportunity afforded by the ESN roll-out – and particularly by the £500m Extended Area Service programme – to improve coverage in the hardest-to-reach areas in my constituency on all mobile networks.
He adds: “I fully understand that no network operator can be compelled to offer a service if they deem it to be unviable but I do think the Government should do all it can to provide the information as soon as practicably possible so operators can make decisions and the nation gets the best value from this major investment in our communications infrastructure.”
According to the Home Office, the new communications network will “give the emergency services the communications capability to match and exceed what they enjoy as private individuals”.
Mr Sunak said the Home Office made it clear to him last year that the Government-funded masts should be shareable with other network operators apart from EE who might want to use them to improve their coverage in the most remote parts of Britain.
Earlier this week, planners in the Yorkshire Dales granted permission for two masts in Upper Swaledale and in nearby Birkdale. The mast in Upper Swaledale, near Crow Trees Farm, will be a lattice mast, meaning it can host several commercial mobile phone operators. The mast on Birkdale Common will be a telegraph pole capable of hosting one commercial operator.
A Home Office spokesman said: “To provide the necessary coverage for the emergency services, EE is building more than 450 new masts, up to 291 of which will transfer to the Home Office at the end of the contract.
“In the most remote and rural areas of the UK, the Government will deliver approximately 300 further masts as part of the Extended Area Service (EAS) project. Many of these are expected to support commercial coverage, where mobile network operators express an interest in doing so.”