In 2011, George Osborne set up a £150 million project, with a plan to install around 600 new masts to improve mobile coverage in the countryside and rural areas. However, the project has now been abandoned after ministers have admitted that the scheme was a flop.
Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, has revealed that only 16 masts were built and professed:
“I do believe that this project has been unsuccessful.”
He claimed that there were rows about planning, and in particular, finding sites for the masts. Also, a number of the mobile phone companies had been disinclined to funding operating costs.
In one instance, officials had debated about what colour a mast in Wiltshire should be for so long, that they abandoned plans for the mast altogether. Other officials had problems with environmentalists protesting against the masts, complaining that they will ruin the landscape and scenery.
Nevertheless, a 100ft mast (that has been reported to cost taxpayers around £300,000) has won approval to be installed in North Cornwall. It will provide David Cameron’s network coverage on his regular trips to the area.
Conservative MP, John Glen, has described the programme’s failure as “extremely disappointing”. The scheme was meant to offer phone coverage to 60,000 rural locations, but by the end of 2015 less than £10 million had been spent on the project.
The Salisbury Member of Parliament has claimed that ministers have got people’s hopes up, and then “cruelly taken away” those hopes:
“This failure has been a substantial inconvenience to businesses, individuals and families. Parents are unable to ring their children, and families feel totally cut off when they are just five or six miles from the city centre of Salisbury. The government must see that this is just not good enough.”
If this worsens or does not start to improve, it has the potential to affect the property prices and amount of purchases in these rural areas. It is unlikely that any new businesses will be set up in these areas due to the lack of communication.
When the scheme started to progress in 2013, it was promised that the project would ‘help to connect rural communities, contribute to economic growth, and generate jobs locally’. We put our trust in our government to improve these situations for us, but we have been let down. Will these circumstances ever improve? How long will our rural areas be totally cut off from the rest of the country?
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