HIGH speed fibre broadband will be rolled out to 96 per cent of Cheshire homes and businesses in the next three years after a £28.5 million project was signed between Cheshire’s four councils and BT.

The Connecting Cheshire Partnership has secured funding to provide additional rural broadband infrastructure to more than 80,000 premises, which will build on BT’s commercial investment in fibre across the county.

As a result more than 400,000 premises – around 96 per cent – across Cheshire should have access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps by the end of 2016.

Those premises in the remaining four per cent which currently experience low speeds will also see an uplift, as the project aims to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps or more to almost all homes and businesses.

The project will transform broadband speeds across Cheshire, narrowing the gap between speeds in urban and rural areas.

Rural residents in Over Peover, Marthall, Ollerton, Goostrey and Lower Peover have been campaigning for years for increased broadband speeds, and this development could mean that their battle is over.

BT was awarded the contract following a procurement exercise through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK framework.

The company is contributing £9 million towards fibre deployment in ‘non-commercial’ areas, while the Connecting Cheshire Partnership is contributing £1.85 million, with a further £4 million coming from the Government’s BDUK funds and £13.6 million from European regional development funds.

Openreach, BT’s local network division, will survey locations around the county and analyse the best way to roll out the network.

This initial survey work will take eight months, so Connecting Cheshire should be in a position to announce which communities will be included in the first stage of the roll-out by December.

Clr David Brown, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, on behalf of the Connecting Cheshire Partnership said: “The award of this contract to BT marks the end of a comprehensive process to secure the best broadband deal for Cheshire.

“The four councils across Cheshire are committed to providing reliable high-speed fibre broadband for our home and business users.

“From children doing homework, to caring for our elderly population and from social media, to e-commerce and home entertainment – fast broadband is the critical enabler.

“The social, environmental and economic benefits will be huge, making Cheshire one of the best-connected regions in the country.”

Tatton MP George Osborne said: “This is great news for not just my Tatton constituency but the whole of Cheshire. Extending the reach of fibre broadband is a real opportunity to provide a huge strategic boost to our urban and rural areas, for both homes and businesses to become better connected.”

Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Next Generation Access, said: “Cheshire has a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises and a high volume of business start-ups, which collectively contribute a substantial proportion of the regional economy.

“The rollout of more fibre broadband will act as a powerful economic driver for these businesses.”