A £3m investment has been approved to provide digital technology to support recovery and growth for communities and businesses across North Yorkshire.
North Yorkshire County Council will implement three projects to enhance connectivity, particularly in rural areas, following the award of funding from the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership as part of its allocation from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.
These include providing public wi-fi in up to 16 market towns to help people to 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 an opportunity to draw people back to local town centres as a destination as more people work from home. While the pandemic and internet shopping have had a dramatic effect on high street, installing public wi-fi is an opportunity to investigate how this technology could be used to promote local shops and services and create a different town centre experience.
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. These benefits will be seen in towns across the county, from Scarborough to Skipton.
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. The council would welcome an approach from any business park manager or owner interested in this opportunity.
Finally, the creation of rural “smart places” – also known as the internet of things – will start to 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. This could include applications to support health care, such as preventing people from falling, and monitoring water levels to anticipate and respond to flooding and managing traffic flow.
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.”
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, added: “We are building on our successful track record as an authority of working across the county to deliver significant infrastructure improvements and to drive opportunities for business post-pandemic. 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. To deliver connected and resilient places, for people to reach their potential and for an economy powered by good business, they must have the tools that enable them to compete with more urban areas – these projects will be a big help to many people.”
David Dickson, Chair 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 benefitting 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. It’s also among the recommendations from the LEP’s ‘21st Century Towns’ report, which sets out a blueprint for how economic growth can be achieved for towns in our area. We’re pleased to have agreed funding for this work, which will make a real difference to our local economy.”
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.