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Could Watton become UK’s first 5G town?

PUBLISHED: 16:12 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:12 05 December 2017

Watton town centre viewed from the top of the clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt

Watton town centre viewed from the top of the clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt

An idea to make Watton Britain’s first 5G town has been mooted as part of a vision to make it “the most connected place in Norfolk”.

George Freeman MP. 
Picture: Ian Burt George Freeman MP. Picture: Ian Burt

Many parts of Norfolk struggle to get adequate 4G, as an investigation by this newspaper showed many places struggle to get a mobile internet signal.

But Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman believes the Breckland town could bid for cash from the government’s £20bn productivity fund to improve its connectivity.

He has raised the idea of Watton being a pilot town for 5G with digital minister Matt Hancock, to see whether a scale of connectivity never seen before in the UK can be achieved.

Mr Freeman believes the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) may be open to the idea, which he thinks would “really put Watton on he map” if it were to become reality.

Watton town centre viewed from the top of the clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt Watton town centre viewed from the top of the clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt

He suggested the idea ahead of Watton Neighbourhood Plan Working Group’s latest community meeting last Friday, December 1 at Queens Hall.

“Watton can feel a bit left out,” Mr Freeman said. “My idea is about trying to get people thinking could we make Watton a pilot 5G town and make it the most connected place in Norfolk.

“There are about 1,500 businesses in the Watton area but a lot of them are invisible. Businesses would want to come here. If this takes off, it would really catalyse Watton.”

The risk of many people coming to Watton to live and work would be that the area becomes predominantly housing, he said - so Mr Freeman believes the town also needs to improve its cultural tourism offer.

Watton town centre. Picture: Ian Burt Watton town centre. Picture: Ian Burt

Friday’s meeting was held as part of a bid to ensure Watton agrees on a neighbourhood plan.

Neighbourhood plans ensure the community has a say in where housing is built in future, as well as infrastructure with them.

They become a legal documents, meaning developers have to adhere to the restrictions agreed.

“For too long our towns and villages have been exploited by aggressive out-of-town developers dumping housing estates on us without the necessary infrastructure to support them, putting pressure on our local drains, roads, schools and surgeries,” he added.

“That’s why I’ve offered to help Dereham and Watton councils set out proper long-term plans reflecting what local people want over the next 10 to 20 years.”

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