South Tyneside is a unique and wonderful place, home to stunning beaches and coastline, vibrant urban and coastal communities, historic visitor attractions and amazing culture, cutting edge industries, a leading UK Port and excellent transport, skills and business connections.
Yet we know that to keep pace with the new economy, to continue leading the way in transitioning towards net zero, to attract people to the Borough, to generate sustainable growth and to reduce inequalities, we need to become even more connected. We cannot afford to be left behind.
That is why digital connectivity (both broadband and mobile coverage) is vital to our economic growth, to boosting lagging productivity, to upskilling and retraining our residents, to ensure we are a great place to live, work or play, to reducing economic and social disparities, to reducing isolation and to the future of our towns.
In short, improving our digital infrastructure underpins our vision for South Tyneside and is a key driver of both a sustainable, inclusive economic recovery from the pandemic and to improve the lives of our residents.
By 2025 South Tyneside will be fully exploiting the economic, social, environmental and cultural potential of a comprehensive deployment of open access, gigabit-capable, full fibre infrastructure throughout the Borough, creating a highly attractive commercial environment for businesses, supporting engaged and skilled residents, connected, informed and healthy communities all set in smart, integrated places.
Fast, resilient and affordable broadband is vital for our residents, businesses, students, visitors and investors. Boosting digital infrastructure can make a real difference:
- Better broadband can increase firm and worker efficiency by lowering costs and enabling innovation, improve productivity and labour market participation through flexible working and lower barriers to starting a business. (What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth)
- Flexible working practices are 21% higher amongst firms with fibre broadband versus basic broadband, leading to higher employee productivity (Regeneris, 2020)
- For every pound invested in South Tyneside in broadband, it produces a further £3.6 in economic impact, along with considerable social impacts (Farrpoint, 2021)
- £39m annual boost to the South Tyneside economy from full fibre and 5G (Farrpoint, 2021)
- 88% of people say broadband had helped them stay positive and connected to loved ones during the pandemic (Community Fibre, 2020)
- Reduction in the unemployment claimant count of 32 people for every 10,000 premises that get better broadband (DCMS, 2021)
- Broadband connectivity ranked as more important when searching for houses than transport links and nearby schools (Rightmove 2016)
We need to act now to exploit future economic opportunities and ensure none of our residents are left behind as our economy and society continues its shift towards digital delivery. As the Centre for Business Research 1 set out, “three digital transformations are shaping the world of work for organisations, their workers, and those who use their services;”
- Flexible working; to enable remote collaboration within and between organisations leading to more efficient processes and a better work-life balance with more choice and flexibility, while enabling residents to upskill and retrain through online learning;
- Digital delivery of services; developments such as online retail, virtual healthcare delivery (allowing older people to stay in their own homes) and online learning will improve customer experiences and enable business efficiencies. It will allow firms to exploit new applications to start up, innovate and access new markets;
- Larger and richer data sets; providing real time intelligence for planning and delivery of services (including the use of predictive analytics, robotics, automation and AI) will produce better decision-making and boost efficiency.
All of these will require gigabit capable connectivity for such benefits to be realised. This better connectivity could enable smart energy and traffic systems (reducing congestion and carbon emissions), increase manufacturing productivity (91% of manufacturers have benefitted from the adoption of new technology 2) and provide healthcare benefits (through assistive technology).
We want to work with our residents, community groups, College, Port, training providers, key partners and, crucially, businesses in our key industries (particularly advanced manufacturing, green, digital, tourism, culture, professional services and logistics) to be at the centre of these changes. This plan, therefore, clearly matches key local, regional and national priorities:
South Tyneside Economic Recovery Plan 2020
3 key drivers of growth:
- Turbocharge productivity by refashioning our skills system, boosting our support for businesses and investing in transport and digital infrastructure
- Catalyse green and sustainable growth by maximising the potential of our low-carbon and digital assets and expertise
- Foster an inclusive recovery by boosting our vibrant communities, cultural assets and amazing places and tackling barriers to health and wellbeing
North East Recovery and Renewal Deal 2020
5 main elements of the Plan:
- To keep people in jobs and training
- To support businesses and sectors to restart and recover
- To support the transition of our communities and places as they adapt to living with CV19
- To build the future economy by maximising the potential of our existing assets
- To invest in digital and transport connectivity
The world is in the middle of a digital revolution. COVID has accelerated this process, digitising almost every part of our everyday lives and making the infrastructure that connects us more important than ever. That’s why it is at the top of the government’s agenda.Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman at Connected Britain 2020
Together, we will collaborate on key projects and work across public and private sectors to boost, utilise and maximise the benefits of better digital infrastructure for the benefit of South Tyneside.
The current picture in South Tyneside on digital connectivity 3 is as follows:
Superfast (over 30mbps)
Ultrafast (over 100mbps)
Gigabit-capable (over 1GB)
While we have worked hard with regional partners – particularly Digital Durham on the subsidised rollout of superfast broadband to areas where the market was unable to deliver commercially – to improve connectivity, it is clear that gaps remain. Such holes in coverage are present in both residential and business areas (particularly in Monkton and Boldon Business Parks). These are particularly noticeable on future-proofed digital connectivity. As Ofcom describe: 4
The pandemic has underlined how important reliable broadband is to people and businesses….and with UK households using 40% more data every year through applications like streaming TV shows, video calls and online gaming, and, more recently, online schooling, investment in upgrading the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is vital. Future-proof gigabit-capable broadband can deliver the networks people and businesses will rely on for years to come.
In addition, mobile coverage research 5 suggests that while 4G coverage is generally good in South Tyneside, it is not providing the catalyst for our town centres that it potentially could (while there are some less well-covered areas around South Shields foreshore, a key tourism area).
- 99.1% superfast (30mbps) broadband coverage; 98% in North East and 96% UK
- 4,600 premises enabled with superfast through the Digital Durham subsidised programme
- 79.5% ultrafast (100mbps) coverage; 61.6% in the North East and 52.3% nationally
- 1% Gigabit-capable coverage; 6.8% in the North East and 27% nationally
- 4G mobile coverage “is generally good. All four MNOs offer a decent degree of 4G availability”
- 53% population of the North East ‘digitally excluded’ (due not just to infrastructure barriers)
- 4,000 devices distributed to children since March 2020 (Council, Schools & College)
- 28% Proportion of North East businesses who expect increased homeworking to continue
- 2/3s of people would like to split work time between home and office
The evidence is therefore clear that we need to work across public and private sectors to drive the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband, plug mobile coverage gaps and foster the conditions that allow our businesses and organisations to maximise the potential of new innovative digital solutions.
As highlighted above, our key challenges are the lack of gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure (in residential, particularly social housing, and business premises), mobile coverage gaps (particularly in high-tourism areas), the challenge of adapting to the new economy and the issue of digital skills and inclusion.
Yet we have real opportunities to tap into exciting new digital and smart solutions that can transform the experience of visitors to South Tyneside, revitalise town centre shopping and our cultural attractions, ensure our businesses can prosper online and exploit big data, catalyse new manufacturing and green opportunities stemming from automation and robotics, boost skills and training provision and help transform our places. We must ensure that we are not left behind.
Underlying digital infrastructure will play an increasingly important role in the way the residents and businesses of South Tyneside live and work. There will be significant changes required in the use and nature of council assets as varied as town centre bins to street lighting.
For example, many homes across the borough are traditional terraced houses with no facility for off-street car parking. This lack of off-street parking will have an impact in the take-up and viability of electric vehicles. If an owner cannot charge their car at home then the move from combustion engine to electric is a little harder to justify.
Streetlight assets that can be used to transmit small cell mobile communications, have the capability to become electric vehicle charging points, as well as illuminating the streets, and they are available now. They will require digital infrastructure, as well as power, to deliver their services; ensuring there is a large fibre footprint across the borough is vital. There should not be a situation where the transition towards sustainable transport models is hampered by planning and inconvenience. Digital solutions have the ability to make the transition, if not easy, then certainly a little easier.
The same is true for small cells. Council assets, that already have power supplied to them, have the potential to be used to host small cell equipment. What is required to make such technology work most effectively in the urban environment is the ability to host numerous small cells to ensure a stable and ubiquitous signal. Power and fixed network assets to backhaul signals to the core are needed; again making the case for the widespread deployment of fibre infrastructure.
In essence, we must work closely with key partners, such as South Tyneside College, the Port of Tyne, the NHS and our automotive industry, as well as internally, as the Borough looks to exploit opportunities in skills, smart ports, telehealth and telemedicine, automated logistics and other potential use cases. Therefore the three main priorities in our Plan are;
- Future-proofed, gigabit-capable digital connectivity throughout South Tyneside
- Resilient mobile connectivity, particularly in our town centres and tourist areas
- A connected Borough where smart solutions can be piloted and embedded
We appreciate these are ambitious goals but our Plan puts collaborating with partners and organisations across the Borough at its heart in order to make this a reality.
Priority 1: Future-proofed, gigabit-capable digital connectivity throughout South Tyneside
Make South Tyneside an attractive area for commercial rollout
- We will engage with key commercial operators and help with their business cases to make gigabit-capable broadband deployment viable throughout South Tyneside;
- We will ensure a welcoming environment for operators via a single point of contact, the sharing of resurfacing, regeneration and housing investment plans and by providing a streamlined service (and standardised templates) on wayleaves;
- We will work flexibly, constructively and in collaboration with the North East Highways and Utilities Committee (NEHAUC) on permits, defects and reinstatement (encouraging providers to utilise Physical Infrastructure Access where possible);
- We will (see priority 3) use the re-procurement of our Wide Area Network (WAN) as an opportunity to increase open access fibre coverage.
Build digital connectivity into regeneration, housing and planning
- We will build a requirement for future-proofed connectivity (including the requirement for developers to submit a gigabit-capable statement) into our Local Plan through a dedicated policy and links within the Plan to this document;
- We will ensure that key development schemes – such as Holborn Riverside and the International Advanced Manufacturing Park – have future-proofed broadband built in;
- We will work with providers to enable them to provide connectivity to Council and Housing Association stock (although complex buildings will require a different approach).
Ensuring connectivity in key business parks and Enterprise Zones
- We will work closely with commercial operators to make the case for rollout in key business parks, such as Monkton South and Boldon and other smaller industrial estates such as Witney Way, Royal Industrial and Hanlon Court and Prince Consort and Victoria Industrial Estates;
- We will engage closely with the Port of Tyne and others to foster better digital connectivity in our Enterprise Zone sites;
- We will work with businesses across the Borough to understand future infrastructure requirements in a changing economy.
Ensuring no communities are left behind
- We will lobby Government to ensure that there are no communities, particularly our coastal areas, which are left behind (potentially accessing the UK Gigabit Programme, although this is more rural focussed at present) from both an infrastructure and skills perspective;
- We will work with providers to explore affordable broadband solutions for disadvantaged communities and groups (potentially through the social value element of our Wide Area Network procurement) and work with community organisations to publicise these;
- We will work closely with South Tyneside Homes, housing associations and schools to ensure that social housing tenants and schools across the Borough have access to future proofed digital connectivity;
- We will work closely with the College on ensuring students have access to affordable connectivity and to devices (as remote and online learning becomes the norm).
Priority 2: Resilient mobile connectivity, particularly in our town centres and tourist areas
Ensure seamless Wi-Fi provision in public buildings and public areas
- We will rollout free public Wi-Fi in our key public places, particularly our town centres and high-footfall tourism areas, via a staged approach (to help boost our retail, hospitality and tourism sectors badly impacted by the pandemic);
- We will work closely with our cultural organisations on improving connectivity;
- We will ensure excellent Wi-Fi provision in all our public buildings, from Council offices and libraries to The Word and community buildings;
- We will explore the potential to trial free Wi-Fi in our most disadvantaged areas (either in communal areas of housing stock or in public spaces);
- We will work with the College on ensuring excellent mobile connectivity on campus.
Fill in mobile coverage gaps
- Work with regional partners to obtain better mobile coverage mapping;
- Work with key landowners, such as the Port, to understand mobile coverage gaps;
- Lobby the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Government to fill in gaps in coverage;
- Work with Government as part of the rollout of a national digital platform for the mapping and brokerage of publicly owned assets for the use in the rollout of wireless networks.
Priority 3: A connected Borough where smart solutions can be piloted and embedded
Lead and enable smart, flexible solutions to drive collaboration and green growth
- Support increased remote working and collaboration within the Council by taking a Modern Workplace approach;
- Carry out work to understand the benefits to South Tyneside of small cell technology (and work with communities to develop understanding) and the use cases it could support, particularly around transport, healthcare, climate change, construction and manufacturing;
- Engage with the Digital Catapult on the potential to pilot applications and identify future Smart and Internet of Things (IOT) opportunities;
- Engage with Council teams and partners on how to maximise the potential to use better connectivity (particularly following the WAN and public Wi-Fi) to bring forward use cases for innovative applications and smart technology;
- Consider the creation of an innovation challenge fund to develop and trial smart applications with SME’s, start-ups and social enterprises.
Put digital innovation on the agenda within and outside the Council
- Ensure we are building twenty-first public services by maximising the use of digital within public services provided by the Council;
- Make digital a key focus of the Economic Regeneration Board, which will be a platform to bring together stakeholders across South Tyneside and work on funding and other opportunities;
- Work closely with the NHS and blue light services on digital opportunities;
- Work with the South Shields Marine School and Tyne Coast College on innovative Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality initiatives;
- Develop and promote the One Trinity Green digital wing;
- Work up a project for a digitally-connected Cultural Quarter that links the riverside to the town centre, and boosts our heritage and retail offers;
- With Government support and working closely with South Tyneside College, develop a fit for purpose College of the Future with excellent digital infrastructure;
- Work with the Port on establishing a North East marine 5G testbed, implementing a Real Time Port Plan and other initiatives as part of their Tyne 2050 Strategy;
- Learn from the Sunderland pilot of Connected Automated Logistics.
This plan focusses solely upon digital connectivity and infrastructure, but connectivity is not an end in itself. We know that there is work to do to continue to boost digital skills, digital public services and the digital sector in South Tyneside. This Plan therefore aligns with:
- Digital skills – which is covered by our Economic Inclusion and Skills Plan;
- Digital sector growth – where we are working closely with the digital cluster, which employs over 350 people across 150 companies and which has seen a 25% growth since 2015, across South Tyneside to support its growth (and inputting into the North East LEP’s Digital Sector Strategy targeting the digital and tech sector);
- Digital Inclusion – where we are working closely with Inspire South Tyneside and looking at how we can ensure all our residents are equipped to access the available digital infrastructure (with the potential to utilise the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund for this purpose);
- Council digital services (internal and customer-facing) – we are working on a future iteration of the ICT and Digital Strategy.
This Strategy frames the work of Connected South Tyneside and our key partners. The key actions to deliver this Strategy are built into the Connected South Tyneside Action Plan.
There is a growing expectation from students that they will be able to access high quality learning content whenever they want, from wherever they are – perhaps reviewing a video of a classroom demonstration before they try a skill in the workplace for the first time, or catching up on lessons on the Metro ride to college. Reliable highspeed connectivity is essential for us to meet these expectations so we can help students in learning new skills and unlocking their future potential.Craig Scott, Director of IT at Tyne Coast College
Digital connectivity is a crucial part of our Tyne 2050 long term vision for the Port of Tyne and embracing technology, from automated vehicles and cranes through to 5G and data-led innovation, is vital for the continued success of the Port, our customers and in our role as a major economic asset for South Tyneside, the North East and UK.Ian Blake, Head of Innovation and Technology at the Port of Tyne and Innovation Lead at the Maritime Innovation Hub
Robust, resilient and fast digital connectivity is vital for the success of local economies and particularly for digital businesses as they seek to start up, grow and flourish. For South Tyneside digital businesses to stay competitive and innovative, better broadband is needed and this strategy can help to achieve this.Paul Fellows, Chief Operations Officer at digital business Partnerize
- CBER, The Impact of Digital Transformation on the UK economy, 2021 Return to text
- Make UK, Digital Skills for a Digital Manufacturing Future, 2020 Return to text
- Sources: Ofcom Connected Nations (2020), Farrpoint (2020), Good Things Foundation (2020), Department for Education (2021), ONS (2021) and North East Chamber of Commerce (2021) Return to text
- Ofcom, Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021-2026, 2021 Return to text
- Farrpoint, 2021 Return to text