Monday, 20 September 2021

Village centre roads to miss out on ultrafast broadband

VILLAGERS in the centre of Wargrave are set to miss out on a new ultrafast broadband scheme.

The village was chosen by Virgin Media for its Cable My Street initiative, which will offer householders and businesses speeds of up to 200 megabytes per second.

Fibre-optic broadband will be available to most residents by September after provider Virgin Media said the project was progressing well.

But the company now says it will not install the service on several roads in the middle of Wargrave as there is not enough demand to justify the disruption it would cause.

Virgin project managers Paul Hartley and Darran Hunt attended a meeting of Wargrave Parish Council on Monday to give an update on the project.

Mr Hartley said: “We are expanding at quite a considerable rate due to the weather, the better it is the faster the guys seem to work.

“The grey cabinets have been going up in the village and all the locations have been approved by Wokingham Borough Council highways and planning departments.

“There has been some noise on social media but we do have certain regulations we have to adhere to. We try to put them away from listed buildings and trees and next to existing street furniture. We have got a big hub going up in Purfield Drive and the rest of the network is fibre to the premises.”

Mr Hunt added: “Two-thirds will be rolled out in August and the rest in September. We are looking at completion in mid September.”

Mr Hartley said that a decision had been made by the company not to install cables on roads such as High Street, Church Street and Ferry Lane.

He said that Virgin had “concerns” over the disruption that could be caused by digging up the road, as it was unlikely that the cables would be able to be installed in the narrow pavement which already had mains for gas and electricity.

This would mean the road would need to be closed, possibly fully, with a diversion of up to 12 miles.

Mr Hartley said that it had not been demonstrated that there was enough demand in those areas to justify the closure of a busy road and that doing that could cause adverse publicity for Virgin.

He said: “We outlined concerns with High Street, Ferry Lane and Church Street. They are central roads and would lead to closures. At the moment it is still a no.

“The School Lane junction would be a road closure with a 12-mile diversion, which we are not keen on. My concern as well is access to the school. We have to demonstrate that the demand is there for 130-odd premises.

“We would like as many customers attracted to us as possible but there’s commercial viability and brand impact or damage. I’m happy to debate but there has got to be a clear understanding of what could happen.”

Mr Hartley also promised that any problems with repairs to the trenches used to lay cables would be looked at by the end of the project.

Some residents had raised concerns over the state of roads and pavements which had been dug up by workmen and then refilled once the cables were installed.

Mr Hartley said: “The tarmac will bleach and weather and you will be surprised how much it will blend in.

“At the end of the build we go around and check that it meets specifications and then the borough council highways department does the same thing. Our work is guaranteed for two years.”

Parish council chairman Richard Bush said he had heard complaints about workmen being rude to residents during the work. He said: “There have been complaints about some of the staff not treating people properly, blocking them in and swearing.”

Mr Hartley said: “They have been warned. It can’t be tolerated and anything like that in the future I can deal with appropriately.”

Councillor Marion Pope added that the workmen on her road were “brilliant”, despite having to work during hot weather.

She said: “They did our road on a hot day and had no water. We gave them water and they were brilliant, they worked their socks off. They left East London at 4.30am and worked until the night.”

Last year, BT installed fibre-optic broadband in Wargrave as part of its Superfast Berkshire project. The scheme aims to cover 97 per cent of the county by 2018. 

But it does not cover Crazies Hill, which has instead agreed a deal with provider Gigaclear to connect the village with speeds of up to 1,000Mbps. The company has already begun work in nearby Kiln Green and hopes to move on to Crazies Hill next month.

The projects by Virgin and Gigaclear to install broadband in Wargrave and Crazies Hill have been backed by Prime Minister Theresa May, who is MP for the Maidenhead constituency.

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