Sunderland council chief claims 'political reasons' behind North East losing out on test 5G mobile networks

Sunderland council chief claims 'political reasons' behind North East losing out on test 5G mobile networks

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 11:29 am
Picture c/o Pixabay

‘Political’ considerations could have been behind a decision not to award a contract to test 5G mobile networks in the North East.

The £50million project to trial the high-speed communication system was instead awarded to the West Midlands, with a focus on testing how it could improve health, construction and highways services, including driverless cars.

But Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, has revealed how close Tyne and Wear came to securing the right to host the pilot, as well as his own opinion on why it fell short.

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“Birmingham won the national bid last year and we were second in that bidding process, I would argue, for political reasons, with Birmingham having a Conservative mayor and the Commonwealth Games coming up,” he said.

“They haven’t made much progress and they haven’t done as well as they should have done at this point in time.

“But there’s a lot of things we can learn from.

“Our challenge is creating a business case for the North East that means people who use those networks [want to come here] and then operators will put the infrastructure in.”

Mr Melia was speaking at last month’s (September 24) meeting of the North East Combined Authority’s (NECA) Economic Development Digital Advisory Board.

Ex-John Lewis boss Andy Street was elected the first Mayor of the Midlands for the Conservative Party in 2017.

A statement by NECA released in September last year (2018), after the contract was awarded to the West Midlands, said the decision would not dampen its ambition to secure 5G infrastructure for the region.

The pilot, which includes hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, has been promised £25 million from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and £25 million match funding from regional partners, as well as the possibility of an extra £25 million ‘at a later stage’.

A spokesperson for West Midlands 5G (WM5G), the organisation set up to run the scheme. Said: “The West Midlands has made significant progress, not only in deploying the 5G network but working with partners on innovative new applications.

“For example, we successfully held the UK’s first 5G ultrasound scan trial at University Hospitals Birmingham, demonstrating that 5G could save lives by enabling paramedics to deliver better care on the front line.

“Partners like Birmingham City University and tech companies are already working with us to develop and deliver the applications which will place the West Midlands and UK at the cutting edge of 5G technology.”