Multi-million pound digital investment to help rural communities recover

North Yorkshire County Council has set out to enhance digital connectivity, particularly in rural areas, following £3m worth of funding from the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The money is part of the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

Planned projects include providing public wi-fi in up to 16 market towns to help people access local and national public services and economic opportunities, introducing “smart places” technology into rural areas, and providing ultrafast fibre broadband to six business parks, helping to boost productivity.

Town centre public wi-fi is seen as an opportunity to draw people back to local town centres as more people work from home.

The council says public access wi-fi will offer opportunities for people with limited or no broadband to access vital local council, Government and health services and take part in the digital economy.

The extension of North Yorkshire’s local full fibre network programme, delivered by the County Council’s wholly owned delivery partner NYnet Ltd, will see the technology deployed to six business parks across the county, benefiting up to 500 businesses.

It will enable them to stay competitive and enhance the economy and attractiveness of North Yorkshire as a place to invest.

The parks earmarked to receive the technology are likely to be in the districts of Ryedale, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Scarborough.

Finally, the creation of rural “smart places” – also known as the internet of things – will bring digital benefits more usually seen in cities into rural areas, enabling businesses to make use of sensors and data to create new markets and products.

A digital network will also provide a range of opportunities to make services more efficient and effective.

County Councillor Greg White, executive member for digital, said: “For the county to make best use of its natural assets, it must not just embrace digital connectivity but lead the way in rural applications of digital connectivity.

“Both the deployment of ‘smart places’ technology and extending the full fibre network will enable this to happen.

“It will be an important step towards rebalancing the relationship between urban and rural communities as well as unleashing the creativity and innovation we know exists here in the market place.”

Cllr Don Mackenzie, executive member for access, added: “High-quality, widespread digital infrastructure is essential to the growth of the North Yorkshire economy, because of the trend towards digital business and service delivery, the rural geography and the relatively sparse population.

“Digital connectivity is the cornerstone of the transformation of the county and we are committed to enabling business growth and skills opportunities right across North Yorkshire.”

David Dickson, chairman of the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Infrastructure & Joint Assets Board, said: “Now more than ever it is vital that businesses and communities are benefit from improved digital connectivity.

“It is a key part of plans for reshaping York and North Yorkshire’s economy, formed in response to Covid-19, as we strive for a greener, fairer and stronger future.”

Work is currently under way to finalise where and how the new technologies will be deployed. The schedule is to have them in place by March 2022.