North Yorkshire rural task force embarks on mission to improve internet and mobile phone coverage

A task force established to tackle long-running issues blighting North Yorkshire’s rural communities has pledged to bring state-of-the-art digital connectivity to help drive millions of pounds of investment in the county.

A landmark report by the North Yorkshire Rural Commission said countryside communities need to be brought into the 21st century to help drive forward the region’s economy and provide a basic “human right” to internet access and mobile phone coverage.

The rural task force, established as one of the main recommendations in the commission’s final report published in July last year, has now identified the need for improved digital connectivity as one of its primary aims.

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Its chairman, North Yorkshire County Council’s chief executive, Richard Flinton, said the Government will now be petitioned to ensure a long-awaited devolution deal for the county provides a platform to boost internet and mobile phone coverage.

A view of Swaledale and the village of Reeth. The Yorkshire Dales has some of the remotest communities in the country, and has endured problems with poor digital connectivity. (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

He said: “Our aim is to step up our ability to influence and lobby on the key issues affecting the future sustainability and prosperity of our communities.

“For example, as part of the devo deal we want to ensure North Yorkshire will no longer lag behind in the gigabit revolution and will lead the way in developing rural communities with state-of-the-art connectivity that can attract inward investment and new business.

“As part of our actions we will look at all the ways that can be achieved.”

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 revealed that a fifth of all rural areas in the county have no broadband connection, compared with seven per cent in urban areas. And more than a third of North Yorkshire has no mobile phone coverage, mainly concentrated in sparsely populated places.

The rural task force met this week to map out a series of actions designed to drive forward priorities for the region and to inform devolution talks following the publication of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper.

An overriding theme in the rural commission’s findings was the need for the Government to provide a multi-billion pound devolution deal for North Yorkshire.

Among the commission’s most radical proposals were a levy on the owners of second homes, and an overhaul of the Government’s funding formula for both education and housing.

A mutual bank has also been suggested to drive forward investment, while the county’s economy needs to be focused on the green energy sector, according to the commission.

The rural task force will publish a report in the autumn to address a host of issues.

It is looking into key themes of the economy, energy, and farming, as well as education, housing and transport to help the Government’s drive to tackle regional inequalities.

The task force’s membership includes officers from the county and district councils, North Yorkshire’s two National Parks, agricultural colleges, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, National Farmers Union, Community First Yorkshire and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.