THE BISHOP of Leeds has welcomed an agreement between the Government and the Church of England for church spires to be used to boost broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas.
The Rt Rev Nick Baines said a number of churches across the Diocese of Leeds have already installed Wi-Fi transmitters and said the new agreement will encourage more churches to do so.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said the agreement showed that medieval buildings can still help deliver 21st century services.
The department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said guidance set out by both the Church and Historic England will ensure that any telecoms infrastructure does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.
The majority of Anglican churches and parishes in England are in rural areas, often in the heart of their communities, and so are well-placed to tackle problems of poor connectivity.
They will be used alongside other church properties and farm buildings to host telecoms infrastructure.
Mr Hancock said: “Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country.
“This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future, improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.”
The Bishop of Leeds, The Rt Rev Nick Baines, said: “We already have a number of churches across our diocese, particularly in rural North Yorkshire, which have installed Wi-Fi transmitters to connect remote communities and boost the local economy.
“This ‘Accord’ will encourage more churches to do so, helping to tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face - isolation and sustainability.”
An internet transmitter has been installed on top of Grade II listed St Chad’s Church, which was built in 1866 in the village of Middlesmoor in the Nidderdale Valley near Pateley Bridge.
Rev Darryl Hall, vicar of Upper Nidderdale and Area Dean of Ripon, said: “The internet repeater installed in St Chad’s is working really well.
“I know some farmers appreciate it because they can check the weather regularly, check the cattle and sheep prices, and are able to do their supermarket shop online.”
Veteran Yorkshire Dales politician Coun John Blackie, who has sat on Richmondshire District Council since 1995, said: “We have got to welcome this. It will deal with a number of the very many ‘not spots’ in a deeply rural area like the Upper Dales, particularly if they make a network around the church.”
Coun Blackie added: “It could probably bring on a village that hasn’t got mobile and will never get broadband by the normal route.
“It could solve those two problems at a stroke.”
Hamish Macleod, director of Mobile UK, said: “Mobile UK welcomes this announcement from Government and the Church of England, which emphasises the benefits of mobile connectivity to local communities.
“Where there is a need, a suitable building is available and appropriate terms can be agreed, the mobile operators will continue to extend their use of churches to increase mobile coverage and capacity, while respecting the church environment.”