Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:23 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 9:23 pm, 10th July 2017

My hon. Friend is right: urban areas, as well as rural ones, will not continue to regenerate without this problem being fixed.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill and the granting of business rate relief as a result for a five-year period on fibre and 5G installations. That should act as the further incentive that we in my constituency need to provide a fix.

I also welcome the previous Bill’s introduction of the new universal service obligation, which, again, should give the last 7% faster broadband. As has been said, this type of connectivity infrastructure is, in the modern age, akin for our constituents to the delivery of a new road or railway in the past. It is vital for the entire economy that we do not leave these constituents behind.

As well as recognising the investment from the Government via this Bill, and previous funding initiatives, I commend Conservative-run East Sussex County Council and Labour-run Brighton and Hove Borough Council for working together to help businesses and properties across East Sussex to access faster broadband. Through their e-Sussex project, my county has allocated £34 million in funding for areas that are too expensive for the market to upgrade itself. Every exchange in East Sussex will be included, and the current project will cover an area of 660 square miles and over 66,500 premises. It will install over 400 new fibre telecoms cabinets and other structures and will lay over 1,000 km of fibre—the distance between Brighton and Berlin.

The first e-Sussex contract is achieving excellent results in bringing better, more reliable fibre broadband to many areas that would not otherwise benefit from upgraded services. However, there remain properties that are hard to reach—for example, where a property is too far from the upgraded cabinet to benefit from any speed uplift. “Hard to reach” generally means too expensive for the public purse to fund. East Sussex has therefore signed a second contract with BT for further investment, so that an additional 5,000 homes and businesses in East Sussex will be able to access high-speed fibre broadband.

There has been much talk today of political parties coming together over a common interest. Perhaps that local example is a positive illustration of the power of working together.