Hinterland - 17 February 2020

Hinterland this week - a duo of bus stories, the importance of village shops, the technical challenges of 5G in rural areas (never mind Hauwei), public opinion confirms rural neglect and the growth of the north. Read on!!

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Bus cuts turn rural areas into ‘transport deserts’

Good piece of lobbying here from CPRE. This article tells us…..

Bus route closures have left nearly a million Britons at risk of being cut off from basic services, research has found.

A study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) found that 56 per cent of small towns in the southwest and northeast of England were “transport deserts” or on the verge of becoming one, with residents unable to get around without driving.

Buses are the most popular form of public transport and account for more journeys than all other types combined. However, almost £400 million of local and national government funding has been cut, causing hundreds of services to be reduced in frequency or scrapped, and leading to fare increases of 63 per cent in real terms.


Government to Unveil £40m for UK Rural 5G Broadband Pilots

This is a very technical article which (to me at least) provides some very interesting insights about the practical challenges of making 5G work on a level playing field in rural places. I fear we are entering a slow lane. It tells us:

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is today reportedly gearing up to announce a fresh round of new capital investment in major infrastructure projects (HS2 etc.), which is expected to include a pot of £40 million to support pilots of superfast 5G based wireless (mobile) broadband in rural areas.

At this point readers may recall that the Prime Minister has already committed to invest £5bn in order to have “Gigabit broadband sprouting in every home” by the end of 2025 (here). The funding is to be targeted exclusively at the final 20% of hardest to reach premises (i.e. mostly rural areas and possibly some disadvantaged urban locations).

The adoption of “gigabit” terminology has also enabled the Government to water down their original focus on “full fibre” by including other “gigabit-capable” technologies (here), such as Virgin Media’s predominantly hybrid fibre coax network and ultrafast 5G mobile services have also been mentioned as examples.

On top of that we shouldn’t forget about the Government’s original 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme in 2018, which also included some rural broadband projects. On the other hand that programme confusingly included some fixed wireless deployments that weren’t actually using 5G New Radio technology at all, despite adopting the terminology and some similar radio bands.

The big challenge with using 5G in any rural setting is the fact that in a normal mobile environment the operators’ tend to focus on lower frequency mobile bands (e.g. 700MHz, 800MHZ, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz) in order to achieve the widest possible coverage at the lowest cost (rural communities are small and sparse over a wide geographic area).

Sadly such bands don’t provide operators with much frequency spectrum in order to deliver their data, which makes achieving Gigabit speeds rather difficult. By comparison the higher frequency 5G bands, such as from 3.4GHz and upwards, provide a lot more spectrum to deliver data but their signals don’t travel as far and will struggle to penetrate indoors in any meaningful way.

Due to the above we suspect that the new pilots will most likely focus on targeted Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) style solutions, which – much like under the previous programme – may or may not actually involve real 5G New Radio tech. In these setups it’s not uncommon to mix targetted “Full Fibre” or Microwave capacity links with local Line-of-Sight (LoS) wireless links that connect directly to receiving antennas installed outside of a home.


Over two-thirds of Brits think rural communities are neglected by the Government

A colleague drew my attention to this article, which is somewhat off the beaten track of my usual reading but has some very powerful insights. It tells us:

69 per cent of British workers agree the government prioritises cities over rural communities, according to a new survey released by Retail Financial Consulting Limited (RFCL), the ATM optimisation and web-based solutions provider for the banking and retail sector.

The survey, which was conducted by research company Censuswide, polled 2,000 British workers in February 2020. The research found that 71 per cent of respondents agree that rural areas have substantially worse broadband and transport connectivity than cities or built up areas, and 66 per cent believe that the government should increase infrastructure investment in rural areas.

This news arrives after cuts to high-street banks and the removal of ATMs have left over 100 rural areas in the UK with no options for cash withdrawal. The RFCL survey even found that almost one in every six respondent has had to travel more than one mile in search of a working ATM or cash machine.


ACS urges government to level playing field for UK’s rural shops

In a Hinterland of surveys this week some very interesting food for thought here about the crucial role played by Village Shops. It tells us:

The ACS’ 2020 Rural Shop Report outlines the crucial role that rural shops play in people’s daily lives as job creators, service providers and social hubs.

The report shows that the UK’s 16,986 rural shops continue to provide around 146,000 local, flexible and secure jobs. Almost a third of colleagues say they rely on the flexibility to fit their job around childcare commitments or caring for other family members, while jobs in rural shops also offer the security of the guaranteed hours and pay that does not come with gig economy jobs.

People in rural areas rated their local convenience store as their number one most essential service, the report reveals, in addition to the service that overall has the most positive impact on their local area. Rural shop customers are also more dependent on these stores because the nearest alternative is further afield than in urban areas.

ACS chief executive, James Lowman, said: “The UK’s rural shops provide a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people, not just through the provision of everyday essentials and a range of services, but also by providing secure local jobs in otherwise isolated communities. They do all of this despite facing an uphill battle to gain access to decent broadband speeds and reliable mobile connectivity, and if they have a cash machine on the premises, to keep that machine free to use for customers. If this Government is committed to levelling up the UK economy, it must include plans to level the playing field for our rural shops.”


Bus funding: Where would it make the most difference?

This article may well raise your ire if you think about what it tells us. In essence rural services have been so hollowed out that our urban counterparts now use more buses per head. Read on

Official government figures reveal more than half of all England's bus journeys are now made in London. 

Outside the capital, Brighton and Hove had the most journeys per head of population in 2018-19.

The Campaign for Better Transport said the new funding was a "significant step change" and welcome news for communities that had "borne the brunt" of cuts to services and "poor or non-existent local public transport in recent years".

2019 study by the charity found more than 3,000 local bus routes had been lost or reduced over the past decade.

Crispin Truman from countryside charity CPRE said rural communities had been "at the end of the queue" for too long and the funding could be a "lifeline".

He said: "If properly targeted, this investment could help tackle loneliness and isolation, reduce car dependency and slash our carbon emissions."


And Finally

Its not just the north its also rural – we’ve been the subject of urban flight for years, now its taking on a north south divide as well. Still don’t hold your breath…..

Escaping the madness': steep rise in Londoners moving to northern England

Patrick Cox’s patience with London snapped when he was charged £3.50 for a cup of tea. For Amy Everett, it was the overcrowded commutes on trains that broke down so often she regularly worried she might never get home.

The pair are part of a rising tide of Londoners moving out of the capital, revealed in new figures suggesting the popularity of settling in or returning to northern England has more than doubled since 2014. While in 2009 only 1% of people leaving London bought or rented homes in the north, in 2019 that figure reached 13%, data from the Countrywide network of estate and lettings agents shows.

Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle upon Tyne are experiencing the fastest rises among northern cities in the number of escapees arriving from the capital, according to separate data from the Office for National Statistics, which indicates a possible shift east of the London escape route from the well-worn path to Manchester. Sheffield had a 12% rise in Londoners moving to buy or rent in 2018, followed by Newcastle and Leeds, which both recorded 5% increases.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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