£3.6 billion towns fund to improve transport and broadband links
In a speech at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum on Saturday 27th July the first extra to go into the public funding of better broadband was announced by the Prime Minister.
First is basic liveability. The streets need to be safe. There need to be enough affordable homes. There need to be jobs that pay good wages. There need to be great public services supporting families and helping the most vulnerable.
Second thing - connections. That means great broadband everywhere, and it means transport. Inspiration and innovation, cross fertilisation between people, literally and figuratively, cannot take place unless people can bump into each other, compete collaborate invent and innovate.
Our post-industrial towns have a proud, great heritage - but an even greater future. Their best years lie ahead of them.
So we are going to put proper money into the places that need it.
We will start by ensuring there is investment from central government – by bringing forward plans on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund - and we have growth deals as well for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And we’re now going to have a £3.6 billion Towns Fund supporting an initial 100 towns. So that they will get the improved transport and improved broadband connectivity that they need.
They’ll also get help with that vital social and cultural infrastructure, from libraries and art centres to parks and youth services: the institutions that bring communities together, and give places new energy and new life.Extracts from Prime Minister Boris Johnson speech 27th July 2019
£3.6 billion may sound a lot since it is double the public funding that went into the BDUK programme but remember that this is shared with transport, and we are not 100% certain that the social and cultural spending is also part of the £3.6 billion. If the £3.6 billion is split 100 ways that is £36 million for each town, but the speech does talk about an initial 100 towns so the funding may actually be split eventually between many more towns.
If broadband was to get half the fund, how far would would £1.8 billion go? Well if the crudest measure of £1,000 per premises to deliver full fibre broadband was used this could mean 1.8 million premises (6% of the UK), but as we are talking towns a lower intervention cost may be possible so could be a higher number, possibly as high as 3.6 million premises.
Unfortunately there was an absence of the two words 'full fibre' in the speech and the time when fibre was mentioned was for a backbone link that goes from York to Manchester alongside the Trans-pennine railway route and is being used to link the Leeds and Manchester Internet exchanges. This suggests that this slew of funding may be destined to be used in a similar fashion to the existing LFFN scheme (Local Full Fibre Networks) where a limited number of councils have used the funding to upgrade networks connecting council infrastructure with the eventual hope that CityFibre (or if another firm has won the contract) will built out GPON FTTP down the residential streets, i.e. the anchor tenant model that is core to how CityFibre operate.
The LFFN and RGC (Rural Gigabit Connectivity) schemes would likely have worked well with the old ambition date of 2033 but an accelerated timeline means that nudge intervention may need to be replaced by direct intervention for residential FTTP roll-outs. Voucher schemes while great for those who make use of them and importantly mean that those complaining loudly might be able to jump the queue but to roll out FTTP to another 89% of the UK in under six years means a coherent plan is needed not piecemeal builds.
The speech also covered the Northern Powerhouse which is a grouping of local authorities and so it seems an appropriate time to share what the broadband situation currently is across this merged set of local authorities.
|Area||Superfast coverage |
30 Mbps and faster
100 Mbps and faster
|Full Fibre coverage|
|Northern Powerhouse Urban Less Sparse (5,961,271 premises)||99.5%||68%||9.1%|
|Northern Powerhouse Town and Fringe Less Sparse (631,677 premises)||98.6%||18.2%||5.4%|
|Northern Powerhouse Village Less Sparse (325,225 premises)||86.2%||12.3%||9.4%|
|Northern Powerhouse Hamlet Less Sparse (154,237 premises)||67.6%||17%||13.2%|
|Northern Powerhouse Village Area Sparse (54,378 premises)||85.1%||7.5%||7.1%|
|Northern Powerhouse Town and Fringe Area Sparse (50,988 premises)||99.6%||3.4%||2.3%|
|Northern Powerhouse Hamlet Area Sparse (26,637 premises)||59.1%||15.6%||15.6%|
|Northern Powerhouse Urban Area Sparse (15,425 premises)||96%||3.6%||3.6%|
The usual pattern that is found when you sub divide areas into the various rural and urban categories as defined by ONS is that full fibre is available in the rural areas than the urban generally. The expectation is that with push for more urban FTTP that started last year with the Openreach Fibre First programme and Vodafone/CityFibre Gigafast roll-out this balance will shift back towards the urban areas.