Suffolk MP announces deal with churches to boost rural broadband and mobile network

Churches will help boost connectivity by hosting telecommunications infrastructure

Churches will help boost connectivity by hosting telecommunications infrastructure - Credit: PA

Culture secretary and Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has announced that church spires will be used to boost broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas.

Mr Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said the agreement with the Church of England to use spires showed medieval buildings can still help deliver 21st century services.

The department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said guidance set out by both the Church and Historic England will ensure that any telecoms infrastructure does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.

The majority of Anglican churches (65%) and parishes (66%) in England are in rural areas.

They will be used alongside other church properties and farm buildings to host telecoms infrastructure.

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Mr Hancock said: “Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country.

“This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future, improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.”

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The Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, has been among those championing the initiative nationally.

Bures, Ipswich St Thomas, Holbrook and Felixstowe St John already host mobile phone antenna. Many more have broadband antenna on the tower, and in west Suffolk, at Ingham, a broadband and mobile phone antenna is currently being installed.

The accord, signed by the National Church Institutions (NCIs) of the Church of England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, encourages churches to use their buildings and other property to host masts boosting 4G and mobile coverage.

Bishop Martin said: “Supporting our rural communities by increasing connectivity, both for villagers and businesses, is an issue I have been lobbying on for a while behind the scenes with others nationally.

“I am delighted with this new agreement and encourage churches in Suffolk to consider this. Our churches are at the heart of the communities they serve and this is another way, as Christians, we can make a difference.

“Any work needs to be very sensitive to our beautiful grade I and II listed churches. But it can be achieved well as we have seen in Suffolk already with the several churches leading the way on this during the past several years.”

The Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich are already supporting programmes which use church buildings to improve connectivity in rural areas.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, said: “Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability.”

The Bishop of Norwich, Right Reverend Graham James, said: “Our parish churches are a truly national network, and to use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve.”

Hamish Macleod, director of Mobile UK, said: “Mobile UK welcomes this announcement from Government and the Church of England, which emphasises the benefits of mobile connectivity to local communities.

“Where there is a need, a suitable building is available and appropriate terms can be agreed, the mobile operators will continue to extend their use of churches to increase mobile coverage and capacity, while respecting the church environment.”

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