A drive into Teesdale can be a pleasant affair. I love the small towns that are dotted across the dale. Staindrop is a peach with Raby castle and its deer parks. The prospect of a drive to a small industrial unit just outside Barnard Castle was a little more daunting, however, especially in the dark and the cold. I was due to present to a select group of the Teesdale Area Action Partnership about broadband. I have not covered myself in glory at previous encounters with the group and had promised myself to be on my best behaviour this time.
Broadband in Durham is a good news story. We are just about to complete contract one of the Digtial Durham programme which will see ninety four percent of the properties across the programme area have access to superfast broadband. The figure for County Durham will be ninety six percent and this compares very favourably with the government’s objective of ninety percent. The programme has enabled four hundred and forty two of the five hundred and eleven cabinets and passed over ninety five thousand premises. Twenty three percent of those people that can have taken up superfast broadband.
Contract two will follow on immediately and will run for a further two years by which time we hope to have passed ninety seven percent of the properties in the programme area and ninety eight percent in County Durham. Again the government were aiming for ninety five percent by then.
The picture in Teesdale is different though. Geography and demography are against us. Since we started we have enabled some thirty five cabinets in the area and passed over nine and a half thousand premises yet even after contract two there will be around twenty one percent of premises left on the wrong side of the divide. That is just under three thousand premises and about two thirds of all that we have left. Many of them are in very small hamlets or single farmsteads. So the picture is not so great in the dale.
The story isn’t over yet. We’re still working hard to find new opportunities to push deeper and deeper. The good take-up so far means that we will have some more money to invest and so the messages that I wanted to get across last night were that we have made great strides forward yet the job is not completed in Teesdale. We’ll keep going to get superfast broadband as close as we can to every household, every business and every community that we can.
It was a much better evening.