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Durham’s public Wi-Fi roll out connects council with Covid recovery plan

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Wi-Fi

A £1.3m framework between Durham County Council and technology integrator North is set to help the county with its Covid-19 recovery plan, while residents and businesses will benefit from free town centre Wi-Fi.

North’s seamless Wi-Fi provision will help the council future proof the county, supporting local businesses to thrive and grow, with smart footfall data captured to shape planning around visitor requirements. 

The installation will allow the council to understand visitor trends including new and repeat visitors, the length of time spent in specific areas and the routes taken through each, day and night-time for economy reporting, and monitoring the effect of high street changes regarding planning and regeneration schemes.

Due to the challenges faced by Covid-19, the project objectives have expanded to support the council’s recovery plan, with the infrastructure now also to be used to improve public safety including decisions made around safe physical distancing. 

Using the real time data, the council is also working on new ways to regenerate the high streets which have been hard hit throughout the pandemic, using footfall and visitor information to help make informed decisions for future planning in making the destinations more attractive.  

North’s Wi-Fi rollout will see the company work closely with the council to carefully plan and deploy networks in the county’s main centres, including historic areas. Wi-Fi and footfall data will allow the council’s tourism team to promote local destinations and events, such as the annual food festival, through targeted promotions. 

Phase one of the project was completed in March last year, with Bishop Auckland and Stanley town centres both benefiting from the new wireless infrastructure, with North set to deliver the technology to Seaham, Chester-le-Street, Barnard Castle and Durham City Centre early this year.

Data captured from Bishop Auckland and Stanley town centre has already been used to support town centre bids, including a successful £19.9million bid to the Future High Streets Fund for Bishop Auckland, in addition to demonstrating data around potential visitor numbers and interest to cinema operators. 

Creating more vibrant and attractive town centres for citizens, visitors, businesses, and shoppers alike, North’s infrastructure will automatically and seamlessly re-connect all users on their return to improve their experience in such areas while ensuring the maximum use of the town Wi-Fi. 

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said, “We are committed to our plan to further regenerate and invest in the county’s towns and villages to ensure communities can benefit from thriving and sustainable high streets and centres.

“In this increasingly digital age people are finding more ways to connect with each other. This project will enhance the experience for residents and visitors, attracting more people into our towns, increasing footfall and levels of spend, and boosting our visitor economy particularly as we look ahead to the county’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”

David Ruthven, sales director at North added, “Wi-Fi and the real-time data it captures has an increasingly important role in regenerating the high street, and with added pressures as a result of the pandemic, it’s important that the council can provide services that not only enhance local areas but contribute to making them safer for residents and visitors.  

“We are thrilled to be working in conjunction with Durham County Council on the roll out of the wireless infrastructure across its towns, combining the latest technology with innovative software to gain more than just the supply of public access Wi-Fi, allowing the council to understand visitor demographics and make informed decisions in line with local requirements.”

Karan Batey, who runs Karan’s Florists in Church Street in Seaham (pictured) said, “I think introducing free public Wi-Fi in the town centre is a brilliant idea. The last year has been incredibly tough for businesses and this will hopefully encourage people to spend more time in the town centre when the shops are able to reopen again.”

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