A MULTI-million pound project to connect South Gloucestershire to superfast broadband speeds is being shrouded in secrecy, it has been claimed this week.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request for more information about South Gloucestershire Council’s £35.6million deal with BT to provide superfast broadband has been turned down at the same time as businesses have complained they cannot access superfast speeds and councillors fear whole villages will miss out.
Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb, who put in the FoI request, said: “It is shocking that a project which involves millions of pounds of public money is shrouded in such secrecy. The public has a right to know now in detail which communities will benefit from superfast broadband and, crucially, who will be excluded.
“Getting reliable information from the council has been like trying to get state secrets out of the Kremlin during the Cold War.”
Mr Webb had asked for a list of all green telephone cabinets which will not be upgraded to fibre broadband.
However, project officer Rhianon Wakely said that information was held by telecommunications providers and ‘forms part of their commercial operation, in respect of which confidentiality is maintained’.
Cllr Sue Hope (Lib Dem, Cotswold Edge) also slammed the project, a partnership with South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire councils and BT which has been funded by the government’s Superfast Britain programme, after discovering areas of Hawkesbury Upton will be completely overlooked.
She said: “Initial information from the council and the maps I was shown suggested that most of Cotswold Edge would benefit from a broadband upgrade. Now it turns out that whole villages are to be missed out.
“People have a right to know what is going on and in particular we want to know what the plans are to fill the many gaps that will be left when this programme is finished.”
Badminton, Bradley Stoke, Pucklechurch, Tormarton and Wick have already been connected and the council said ‘excellent progress’ was being made to connect more than 5,000 homes and businesses to fibre broadband by the summer.
But the owner of a high-end car dealership in Horton has hit out at the project labelling it a ‘whitewash’.
Richard Williams moved Williams Automobiles, which sells Morgan and Lotus cars to collectors across the globe, from Bristol to his family farm off Sodbury Common three years ago.
“We converted our farm and have won an award for our eco offices,” said Mr Williams. “But we can’t access broadband and we need it to upload high quality pictures for the Chinese market.
“We have held meetings with the council but because of EU regulations, they claim they can’t help us further. This is public money being used. It is a whitewash.”
A council spokesman said the project was subject to European Commission requirements that local authorities can only use public money to invest in areas where there is no current or planned standard or superfast broadband.
“Mr Williams is connected to a cabinet that has been upgraded to Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) by a commercial provider," he said. "The cabinet is therefore unfortunately not legally able to be included in the council’s current Superfast Broadband Project.”
Following a meeting in May with council deputy chief executive Dave Perry, the authority has begun another open market review which it said may provide further opportunities for Horton and other communities that are not included in the current project.