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Cumbria's Fibre GarDen broadband project faces uncertain future

Friday, October 16th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The future of a community-owned broadband project in Cumbria is hanging in the balance after bosses admitted they will no longer be able to get a six-figure funding boost from Defra.

The Fibre GarDen board said delays to the project meant it is “impractical” for it to access the Defra funding, making the project’s viability “uncertain”.

The scheme’s annual general meeting has been set for 17 November, where options for its future will be discussed.

The Fibre GarDen project aims to deliver superfast broadband to 500 properties in the Cumbrian Dales of Garsdale and Dentdale.

After five years of trying to get it underway, the first fibre was finally laid earlier this year.

In August, Cable.co.uk reported that the project had suffered difficulties and had been on hold since July .

Despite the admission of “difficulties” at the time, project bosses said they expected to see “significant progress over the coming months”.

They also reassured members that the project’s Defra funding, under the Rural Community Broadband Fund, remained in place with a revised date to submit a final claim of 13 November.

But a statement from the FibreGarden board today said there had been a “disappointing lack of progress on the ground” through the summer and autumn.

“The delays now mean that it is impractical for Fibre GarDen to access the funding which had been assigned to the project by DEFRA and we have met with DEFRA representatives to advise them of that fact,” it said.

“After five years of working towards this end, they too are disappointed.

'Uncertain'

“There can be no doubt that the viability of the project is uncertain at this time and the board are taking advice about several alternative options in order that we may act in the best interests of members, stakeholders and the community.”

It said they do not plan to issue any statements about the board’s next course of action until the options have been properly assessed.

The Fibre GarDen AGM – open only to members – will be held on 17 November, where the board will report on the project and present various options to members to get guidance on how they want the project to progress.

There will also be an open community evening following the AGM for anyone who is interested in the project, where the board will report on the direction members have decided it should take.

Earlier this year, Cable.co.uk reported that the Fibre GarDen project had finally been given the green light when Cumbria County Council voted to separate it from the wider Connecting Cumbria programme, removing it from the contract with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and so releasing £383,500 it had secured in grant funding from DEFRA’s Rural Community Broadband Fund.

Organisers previously said the project would initially build 64km of network, constructed from “both ends and to meet in the middle”, with plans to extend it to neighbouring areas at a later date.

Picture courtesy of Richard Swales.

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