Tom FitzPatrick on the priority to ensure Fakenham continues to thrive
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015
In his latest column, county councillor for Fakenham Tom FitzPatrick addresses the importance of infrastructure - both digital and physical - for the town.
The thing that allows us to maintain prosperity is decent infrastructure. Traditionally, roads, schools, hospitals, telephones and also the mundane but essential components such as decent water and sewerage systems. In addition to these, over the past 30 years or so, mobile phones and broadband have joined the traditional list and have taken on increasing importance.
Ensuring that the infrastructure across Norfolk continues to improve has to be a priority. In particular to ensure those market towns like Fakenham, which provide so many services to the surrounding villages, continue to thrive. A good mixture of specialist shops and hospitality, as well as supermarkets, will bring people into town and benefit the local hospitality and tourism sector. Decent safe roads, allowing people to get here and move around are all part of the mix.
Nowadays, that infrastructure also includes digital, something which has allowed our lives to continue over the past year and has accelerated a trend to more flexible working for many of us.
Things will never be the same again as working patterns have changed. This has only been possible as a result of broadband speeds across the whole county increasing dramatically, both through the Better Broadband for Norfolk project as well as commercial and community rollouts. We now have over 95pc of premises with speeds of greater than 30Mbps.
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The real aim is to continue to work to achieve as close to 100pc as possible. Fibre to the premises giving vastly better speeds is well underway.
Reaching the final premises to lay in broadband was always going to be a challenge with innovative thinking needed in some cases. The government had recently announced Project Gigabyte which aims to target places that are likely to be left behind under the main rollout plans to improve service and Norfolk County Council made a bid for funding.
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The great news for Norfolk is that funding of £115m and £195m has just been announced, the largest award to anywhere in the East of England. This will benefit 118,700 homes in Norfolk and will bring a service to properties that have been described as lightning-fast.
In October 2018 the leader of the county council and I spoke at the 'Internet of Things' conference in Norwich. These 'things' are actually devices and sensors which use a network for a whole range of uses. Back then in 2018, Norfolk had no network whatsoever. In less than three years we sourced funding from the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and now have an Innovation Network which covers the whole county and is the largest in the UK.
It’s still growing and is free to use for businesses who want to use its connectivity to link in suitable projects. An early use was heat sensors in the roads in some locations to make gritting more effective in winter. There are sensors warning of floods and rising water levels, with more joining all the time. More Norfolk innovation.
One thing that is often mentioned to me is mobile coverage. This has become increasingly important as many people have effectively abandoned their landlines and use their mobile for business, staying in touch with friends and even for purposes at the shops.
Norfolk was the first county in the UK to commission an independent mapping of mobile services. This has allowed gaps and “not spots” to be identified and make it possible to work with mobile companies to come up with solutions. The ability of mobile companies to be able to share masts using the Shared Rural Network has made for a better service.
The county council also works with the companies to allow the use of tall structures such as fire towers, sometimes avoiding the need for masts.
The digital infrastructure allows the use of technology to offer support, safety and connectivity within the home and the wider community. Norfolk was named the Connected Britain Digital Council of the Year in 2020.
Digital technology has allowed more use of online classes for adult education making it more accessible to people outside the city and larger towns. The library service uses digital to ensure that people and businesses can keep up to date and build in what they have already.
All in all, despite the challenges of moving with the times while keeping the things that make this area unique, welcome change is still being embraced - as we build for the future.