Hinterland - 16 November 2020

In Hinterland this week - rural broadband, driverless vehicles, Brexit, the wonderful secret of Barnard Castle, further challenges to the NHS and the retirement of a local broadband legend.

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Fibre broadband: The cost of delivering in rural areas 

A common refrain but one we intend to keep raising at Hinterland

Wisbech is a pretty market town in Cambridgeshire but it's an area divided by access to fast broadband.

Paul Brett moved to the area in 2003, seeking a slightly more laid-back way of life. But as a software engineer, he also needed fast broadband.

And despite being in a location that is not exactly rural - he can see the town from his house - he has struggled, initially on a 0.5Mbps (megabits per second) connection when he moved in, rising to 5Mbps now - still in the bottom few in the country for broadband speed.

A few years ago he was hopeful he could make the leap into the 21st century when a technology called Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) finally became available to the town.

He was disappointed to find it didn't help.

"My speed halved - rather than being an upgrade it got worse, so I immediately cancelled that and got my money back," he says.

That's because FTTC, as the name suggests, runs only to the nearest green street cabinet. For the last part of the journey, broadband has to travel along old copper wire – which means that the further away you live, the worse the speed gets.

Not to be defeated, Mr Brett clubbed together with some of his neighbours to persuade BT to run 1Gbps (gigabit per second) fibre broadband to their street.

But when the quote came back from Openreach, the spin-off from BT that is responsible for the vast majority of the UK's broadband infrastructure, he was shocked.

"I was quoted £101,855.00 - which seemed high."

There was no breakdown of the cost but Openreach had helpfully done some of the maths - for 17 premises the cost per home or business would be £5,991.47, with the possibility of vouchers taking an estimated £20,000 off the overall estimate.


UK’s first robot delivery vehicle completes landmark journey in London

Real potential here for rural communities once this becomes less city centric as a phenomenon.

robot could transform how parcels are delivered in the UK after completing its landmark first journey.

The UK’s first autonomous delivery vehicle transported medical supplies from a pharmacy to a care home in HounslowLondon.  

The electric vehicle, built by Academy of Robotics, uses artificial intelligence and a specially developed package management system to provide contact-free delivery.

It can cover 60 miles fully loaded on a single charge and deliver in city centres and suburban and rural locations.


‘Our rural economies have most to fear through the uncertainty of Brexit’ – SLE

A Scottish story but equally applicable to England…

The twin tests of Brexit and maintaining Scotland’s high-quality food production should not detract from the biggest challenge of our time – halting climate change.

This is according to Mark Tennant, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), which represents rural businesses, said serious choices of priorities lie ahead both for government and food producers as the clock ticks towards the EU trade deal deadline in January.

Tennant was speaking at SLE’s annual conference. He said it was now incumbent on farming businesses and land managers to ‘go further and go faster’ in their contributions to combating carbon emissions.

“Yet, as hard as these challenges are, we must not take our focus away from climate change – and it is incumbent on farmers, land managers and estates to continue to help Scotland meet its targets in this area.

“As we transition from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), there is an opportunity to enact a huge change in how we deliver from our land.


Where is the most affordable countryside location to move to?

Jessica and I have long relished our trips to Teesdale and this report lets you all in on the secret…

BARNARD Castle has been revealed as the most affordable rural location to move to.

City life isn’t for everyone. Removal quotes specialists Compare My Move looked at rural locations in England and Wales, comparing data on the quality of life in each town and village to find the top spots for a rural relocation.

The company ranked over 75 rural locations on factors such as average house price, median full-time salary, average sunlight hours and precipitation and wifi speed using data from local authorities, ONS, the Met Office and Zoopla.

Barnard Castle topped the list for the most affordable countryside locations to relocate to, ranking the first cheapest rural area based on average property price. 

The average house price in the County Durham town is £188,327.

It is followed by Ambleside, just an hour and a half drive away from Barnard Castle, where the average house price sits at £198,316.

However, if the North's weather is not for you and you’re looking for a sunny UK relocation, Chichester should be at the top of your list with 1,920.8 hours of sunlight in an average year. 


Visa rules forcing migrant NHS workers to leave UK amid Covid second wave

This story is bad news for rural areas.

Migrant healthcare workers are having to return to their countries of origin, potentially hampering Britain’s response to the second wave of coronavirus, after the expiry of visas to support the NHS, trade unions and charities have warned.

Unison has called on the government to stop forcing out key workers in the health and care sectors and to stop barring potential new ones from coming to work here.

Along with key workers forced to return to their home countries, many who are still in the UK are struggling to renew their visas due to delays and prohibitive costs and have become overstayers as a result, something which can further hamper their ability to renew their visas.

Unison says that the policy is having a serious impact during the second wave of the pandemic and at a time when there are 122,000 vacancies in the health and care sectors in England.

Doctors Association UK has called for indefinite leave to remain for migrant healthcare workers and raised concerns about visa processing delays.


And finally

Barry Forde – CEO of Pioneering Rural FTTP ISP B4RN to Retire

Very sad to see Barry a pioneer of rural local broadband planning to hang up his boots!

The founder and CEO of UK rural “full fibre” broadband ISP B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North), Barry Forde MBE, has this morning announced that he intends to retire by the end of this year. The provider’s Board is currently overseeing the ongoing process of appointing a successor.

The provider, which has been busy building a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to rural homes since 2012, is registered as a Community Benefit Society (i.e. it can’t be bought by a commercial operator and profits are distributed back into the community) and can reach into some very remote parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire.

B4RN is also partly funded by local communities, which volunteer their time and exchange free wayleaves (e.g. access over farm land) in order to help physically build the new fibre infrastructure (volunteers on soft digs through fields etc.). As a result, their full fibre network has been able to reach into locations where it might otherwise have been considered too expensive for a normal commercial operator.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.



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