CALLS have been made to ensure the whole of Craven is able to access high speed broadband to encourage business start-ups and families to move into the Dales, as well as provide for people already living here.

North Yorkshire Rural Commission is pressing the government to view reliable, high quality broadband provision as a 'basic human right'.

The Commission, established by North Yorkshire County Council, says high speed broadband should be classed as a basic utility, like running water and electricity and that bringing an end to digital disadvantage in rural areas, like North Yorkshire, is absolutely essential for economies and the communities they serve to thrive.

It says the facility is needed to sustain communities in a modern age and that access to good quality broadband had never been more important, given the volume of home and remote working during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are more than 32,000 properties in Craven, of which 2,149 do not currently have access to superfast broadband. Among areas with a significant number of properties without access are the villages of Litton, Cowling and East Marton.

Councillor Richard Foster, leader of Craven District Council agreed that such a facility was very important. He said: "We want to encourage people into Craven to live, bring up their families and support local schools and start up businesses, but these people will want to ensure there is adequate broadband availability before moving. It is the first thing that most people look at these days when comparing properties."

He said there are murmurings that there could be a shift in people moving from the bigger cities in the south, into places like the Dales so Craven needs to be in a position to be able to accommodate their connection needs.

He said the more business start-ups there are will encourage growth in other areas to support them and who, in turn, will support local trades and the hospitality industry.

Councillor Simon Myers, lead member for Enterprising Craven, agreed that better broadband will be a boost locally, not least himself as he has no access to fibre optic broadband yet.

"I live at the end of the copper line between Hellifield and Otterburn and there are occasions when the line gets broken and I end up with no phone or broadband.

"When it is working it is fine for things like Zoom meetings but fibre would be better, though I can't see Openreach bringing it up here for one property.

"We want to attract more people up here and Craven is a good place to bring up a family, but we need to be able to provide super fast broadband for everyone.

"We are looking at a change in demographics. It is a fallout from the pandemic. Many people will not want to work from big centres."

Councillor Sue Metcalfe, who covers the Upper Wharfedale ward of Arncliffe, Buckden, Conistone-with-Kilnsey, Halton Gill, Hawkswick, Kettlewell-with-Starbotton, Litton and Threshfield, said most areas up there were able to access good broadband through an independent provider using a fibre-backed microwave network, but that there were pockets of homes which could not.

"The only problem is where homes are not in line with a signal they cannot access the high speeds," she said.

Commissioners heard that the county council had made considerable progress in securing access to broadband to large swathes of the county, although take-up in certain areas remained an issue. As part of a partnership this programme is delivered via NYnet and to date phase three of this approach has seen superfast broadband rolled out to around 92 per cent of the population of North Yorkshire.

In spite of this, across the county there are still around 49,000 people who have no broadband and the vast majority of these, almost 38,000 live in remote rural areas.

Hearing evidence on connectivity from a range of private and public sector broadband providers, rural commissioners said they also heard the importance of a broader national approach to include more widely accessible incentive voucher schemes and toolkits to help to stimulate community-led broadband programmes in remote areas.

Rural Commissioner Dr Debbie Trebilco said: “Broadband and mobile technology need to be seen in exactly the same way as other essential utilities, like water and electricity. As a humanitarian right, to support mental and physical health, education and jobs. Across all the previous evidence sessions we have heard about the importance of connectivity as the artery which makes everything happen and unlocks the county’s potential.”

Robert Ling, Assistant Director for Technology and Change at North Yorkshire County Council, said provision of superfast broadband into the most rural communities should carry the same value as for urban areas: “Rural areas can thrive if we can achieve a blend of digital connectivity which gives them similar access to those enjoyed by more urban areas. If anything, coronavirus has demonstrated that with the right connectivity you can participate around the world, so why not be based in North Yorkshire? However, any investment in infrastructure must be coupled with investment in skills and access to technologies for people and businesses because the two must work together to make sure the benefits of the infrastructure can be realised.”