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Free Wi-Fi to be introduced in 12 Suffolk high streets - here’s where

PUBLISHED: 07:56 08 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:47 08 July 2020

East Suffolk Council's Smart Towns project is set to allow market towns to analyse footfall and boost their high streets. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

East Suffolk Council's Smart Towns project is set to allow market towns to analyse footfall and boost their high streets. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

High streets in 12 Suffolk towns are to get a major boost after hundreds of thousands of pounds were approved for a project to provide free Wi-Fi and footfall tracking.

East Suffolk Council leader Steve Gallant said the Smart Towns scheme was a East Suffolk Council leader Steve Gallant said the Smart Towns scheme was a "game changer" for the district. Picture: EAST SUFFOLK COUNCIL

East Suffolk Council’s cabinet on Tuesday evening gave the go-ahead for the successful pilot project held in Framlingham last year to be rolled out to 11 other market towns, which will see major digital upgrades.

The project, called Smart Towns, will include providing free Wi-Fi, online promotions to attract shoppers, footfall tracking data, and new high street apps and town websites, among other benefits.

Steve Gallant, Conservative council leader, said it was “a real game changer”.

“The reality is our town centres have been hit by Covid-19, but even before then we have seen nationally a general decline,” he said.

Framlingham hosted the Smart Towns pilot from July last year and has already found success in the scheme. Picture: RACHEL EDGEFramlingham hosted the Smart Towns pilot from July last year and has already found success in the scheme. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“We have got a real opportunity here, and this is the sort of stuff we would expect to see in major cities across the country, and we are employing this in what some would consider to be small market towns in rural Suffolk.

“We need to make these towns as attractive and accessible as we possibly can.”

The 12 towns to benefit from the scheme are:

Councillor Stephen Burroughes said the Smart Towns scheme would give a fresh vibrancy to the market towns. Picture: SCCCouncillor Stephen Burroughes said the Smart Towns scheme would give a fresh vibrancy to the market towns. Picture: SCC

• Aldeburgh

• Beccles

• Bungay

• Felixstowe

• Framlingham

• Halesworth

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• Leiston

• Lowestoft

• Saxmundham

• Southwold

• Wickham Market

• Woodbridge

Work to roll out the scheme is to begin later this summer and be completed within two years. It is hoped that, in future, smaller towns and villages may also benefit from the scheme.

Around £400,000 has been spent on bringing the project forward to date, with cabinet approving a further £500,000 from its transformation reserve budget.

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has also pledged £200,000.

Footfall tracking has helped organisers of the Framlingham Sausage Festival understand how many new visitors came for the event compared to regular Framlingham shoppers,.

Anonymised data is used to show the most frequent routes people use, which times of day are the busiest and quietest, numbers of repeat customers and dwell time.

It means town centre shops will be able to better understand the needs of their customers that will help them tweak their opening times, offer digital promotions to encourage people in at quiet times, such as free coffee refills in lean periods, and allow signs to be put in locations which will reach the most people.

Figures from the Framlingham pilot showed that in 12 months there were 18,360 uses of the free Wi-Fi, average connection times to the network of 72 minutes and nearly half of the entire town’s population had used the network.

The project has been welcomed by the opposition Labour and Green groups at the authority.

Cabinet member for customer services and operational partnerships, Stephen Burroughes, added: “It’s envisaged that this will help towns understand their strengths, support community activities, help and aid businesses and bring a fresh vibrancy to the high street, which is now even more important.”


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