Peak District community broadband provider gets back up to speed after four-year planning dispute resolved

A four-year-long planning dispute has finally been concluded between the Peak District National Park Authority and a group of residents who set up their own rural broadband provider – meaning it is now taking orders from new customers.

Monday, 1st November 2021, 10:05 am

In 2017 a consortium of four businessmen and farmers invested £120,000 in an antenna to serve their company, Derbyshire Broadband, on the understanding it would be permitted under the necessary regulations.

Just a few months later however, the company received a letter informing them they had breached planning controls and had 28 days to remove the antenna – essentially a 3.5-metre scaffolding pole on the moor at Cown Edge farm near Chunal.

By this time, it was already providing a vital link to around 500 users including businesses, caravan parks and home workers, who would have been left with little alternative if the company did not fight on their behalf.

Derbyshire Broadband was set up by a group of rural residents frustrated by the limited services offered by major internet providers.

Founder Collin Hanson-Orr said: “We did this because nobody else was going to. We were the people who are now our customers, and were, are, and will remain a community project.”

Various solutions were proposed and rejected in protracted negotiations, while Derbyshire Broadband had to pause any new investment – even when the pandemic saw a surge in demand from potential domestic customers.

As the situation approached the four-year mark, when the antenna would become legal by default, the threat of enforcement intensified and so the company turned to High Peak MP Robert Largan for help to mediate between the two parties and call on Government ministers for support. The pressure finally paid off and a mutually agreeable solution was found.

Colin said: “I am delighted to thank Brian Taylor, head of planning at the Peak park, and especially our MP. They have genuinely provided the impetus to end the nightmare that has had our service on hold.”

Derbyshire Broadband customers Mr and Mrs Hall with Robert Largan MP and engineer Rob Hinchley.

Now that the company’s future is on a secure footing, the company is offering fixed wireless and 4G connections with download speeds up to 100 MB to more poorly served areas than ever before – where non-fibre rural solutions from major UK providers offer download speeds as low as 0.5 MB.

Colin said: “We have dug deep again and again in restructuring and improving our service to the extent that we are now able to recommence operations and begin to bring the service to many not-spots.

“We are now ready to accept orders for the supply of superfast broadband within the Peak park and beyond.”

As part of a campaign to improve rural broadband, Mr Largan is currently running a constituent survey to identify the areas with the biggest issues.

Connections are delivered via a wireless reception dish, with speeds rivalling those of full fibre broadband.

He said: “The Peak District’s unique geography means we have some of the worst coverage blackspots in the entire country.

“I am raising this issue in Parliament constantly, urging ministers to speed up the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and boost mobile coverage to the hardest-to reach places.”

To take part in the survey, go to robertlargan.co.uk/broadbandsurvey.

For more information on Derbyshire Broadband services, see derbyshirebroadband.co.uk.

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