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Battle For Cumbria & Northumberland Goes To Parliament

September 21st, 2021
Author: Mark Gray
Posted In: Latest news

Tim Farron MP and B4RN CEO Michael Lee meet at Westminster

A Westminster Hall debate took place in Parliament on Tuesday, to urge ministers to back down over proposals which would stop rural communities in Cumbria and Northumberland getting hyperfast B4RN broadband.

It was led by South Lakes MP Tim Farron and can be viewed here.

The rules around the Government’s Project Gigabit scheme mean that the community-led company B4RN would be unable to provide broadband to many areas in the counties.

B4RN have warned that this will force them to ‘immediately and significantly cut back build plans in Cumbria and Northumberland’ as a result.

That means that local communities who were set to be connected by B4RN could see their broadband be significantly delayed, and some homes in rural areas may now be missed out altogether.

Michael Lee, the CEO of B4RN, travelled down to Westminster to attend the debate. He said: “I was really pleased to be able to travel down to Westminster to attend this important debate and am grateful to Tim and to the other Cumbrian MPs who took part and made the case for B4RN.

“Following the debate, I was granted a meeting with officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport where we had a really constructive discussion.

“I am now hopeful that we are working towards a solution which will allow us to continue to deliver fibre optic infrastructure to as many communities as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Speaking in Westminster Hall, Tim said: “How can the Government possibly claim to be levelling up on the one hand, when on the other they are removing the chance for people living in the most rural areas of Cumbria and Northumberland to access hyper-fast fibre-optic broadband in their homes?

“B4RN is a model the rest of the country could learn from and emulate. Instead, it would appear that Ministers – at least so far – are not interested in learning from success, and instead want to impose failure.

“That is why I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak today, and to plead with our new Minister to listen to B4RN, to local MPs, and more importantly to our communities, and not be the Minister responsible for promising Project Gigabit and delivering Project Pull-the-Plug.”

Responding, the new Digital Minister Julia Lopez MP said: “I cannot stress enough how much the Department admires and applauds B4RN in their unique community-minded approach. They are almost unique in the UK and we don’t want to dampen that enthusiasm or indeed that business model.

“I want to reassure the honourable member that we are listening hard to people’s concerns and we will continue to be open-minded about the best approach, and I hope that this debate is the start of that conversation, certainly with me in my new role.”

Furness MP Simon Fell also met with Michael Lee at Westminster and said: “It’s clear that we must maintain the voucher scheme & allow B4RN to continue to connect engaged communities during the procurement process. I’ll keep making the case.”

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