Winterbourne Stoke Cut Off From The (Digital) World: The Dark Ages Return

The irony of this post is not wasted upon us, as those it is of most interest to are the ones least likely to be able to read it at the moment.   Over the last couple of weeks, BT Openreach contractors have been beavering away, making the final infrastructure provisions to bring the fibre-optic cable from the BT exchange in Shrewton to the DSLAM (the new green box) on the verge of the A303 close to the entrance to the Manor House.

Yesterday (19 July 2017), they were mole-ploughing in the ducting for the fibre on the south of the B3083 close to the junction with the A303; a matter of a few hundred metres at most.   What could possibly go wrong?

 

Despite carefully surveying the route, the contractors appear to have put the mole-plough through the old and festering aluminium telephone cable, thereby cutting off Winterbourne Stoke from the outside world.

BT first told us that they were waiting for specialist engineers to arrive to work out where the break was and that it wouldn’t be fixed until Friday 21st July.  Later in the day, a relative of a vulnerable villager who is reliant on a land-line service for emergency situations, was told it was going to be fixed either last night, or this morning.  As of  0900 on 20 July, the telephone lines lie silent.

What is quite frightening is just how reliant and vulnerable we all are when it comes to communications.  Yes, many of us have mobile phones as well as land-lines, but the coverage in the village isn’t perfect and they can’t always be depended on.   Some facilities, like emergency alarm systems for the sick and elderly, only work with a land-line (or fibre) so when the telephone line fails, we have no back-up.

We have villagers awaiting phone calls relating to urgent medical appointments.  Because the lines have been cut, the caller simply hears the phone ringing and ringing and ringing.  They can’t get through or leave a message.  Relatives may try and call family members and also can’t get through.

The broadband fails as we do not have fibre. People who normally work from home, can’t.  Files can’t be uploaded or downloaded – deadlines can be missed.

Of course, if we had a reliable mobile service, mobile broadband would be an option for some – at a price.  Even then, many have this facility on a mobile phone, but may not have the facility or knowledge to “tether” a desktop or laptop to their phone.

One of the most important reasons for our drive to get fibre to the village was to allow us some redundancy in communications.   We will get there, and we hope it will be soon.

If any villagers need to send urgent emails or files whilst the village is cut off, please contact a Parish Councillor and we will see what we can do to help.   Similarly, if you can read this and we are still disconnected from land-lines,  please check on your neighbours to see if they have any communications problems we might be able to help with.

Putting In The Ducting

Anyone who has been looking for signs of BT activity on the Shrewton road over the last couple of weeks would have found it hard to spot anything at all.  However, today there were a few signs that things are moving forward.

First of all, some BT subcontractors were spotted feeding ducting or possibly cable into one of the access chambers that were installed last year.

Further down the road, another contractor was pumping out another access chamber in the road at the foot of a BT pole:

However, they don’t appear to have brought the mole plough back yet, as the yellow plastic poles are still in the verge:

There is no evidence that they have installed any of the poles for which they had sought permission for traffic controls.  That might suggest there is a bit more work to be done over the next couple of weeks.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photos; they are stills from a windscreen video.

Broadband News: An Unfortunate Delay

The Wiltshire Online-BT plan to deliver fibre broadband to Winterbourne Stoke has, as mentioned in previous updates, hit some barriers to progress; particularly a crop being planted in one of the fields that needs to be negotiated between here and Shrewton.

BT are very apologetic about having been unable to meet the original forecast but, to be honest, this has been due to circumstances outside of their control.  They are sure that they will get there and are changing the plan in order bring in the delivery as soon as possible.  The new route is unaffected by crops and the need to harvest them.

BT informed us over the weekend:

“We have been working in Winterbourne Stoke and an Openreach engineer will be on site on Monday 19th June to light test 3km of fibre.  In addition an engineering team will be installing cabling for another 500m section of the route over the coming weeks.

We require agreement to three wayleaves in order to complete the work. One was signed very early on while the other two are being worked through with the appointed land agent and the MOD and  we have asked the council to help where they can with wayleaves. Once resolved, then the mole ploughing of the remaining  2km route will commence and the solution can be fully commissioned.  The mole plough is on site now in readiness.

As you will understand this is one of our more challenging deployments, but we don’t give up.  Delivery of service is now targeted for August.”

So, watch this space.  BT will be providing regular updates which we will pass on as soon as we have them.

A “Meeting of the Parish” To Discuss Concerns About Bypass Routes + STOP PRESS – Broadband News!!!!!

A “Meeting of the Parish” will be held in St Peter’s Church on Thursday 26th January.  The idea is to capture the concerns of villagers about both of the two routes proposed for the Winterbourne Stoke bypass.

Do we have enough information on which to base a rational choice for either route?   If not, what information do we need?  How best to flag this up – just to Highways England, or more widely?

What do villagers feel are the key considerations for making a choice?

Whichever route is ultimately selected, we need to identify now which features of  either route that don’t appear to work or might cause problems for the village during construction and when complete and indicate to Highways England how they might be mitigated against.  Whilst we intend to do this as part of a response from the Parish Council, it is vital that as many individuals as possible from the village respond to the consultation directly themselves.

The Parish Councillors and Clerk will be doorstepping villagers over the next few days to ask a few basic questions and we will base the agenda for the meeting on the responses to those.  It will be very short!

STOP PRESS – Broadband News!!!!!

A bit of good news in relation to the village getting broadband.   I have just received the following email from Wiltshire Council’s Wiltshire Online:

I can advise that there will be some activity in the area next week as the contractor who will undertake the Mole Ploughing will be completing their final checks along the route.   Following on from this further works are scheduled mid-February.  Dates to be confirmed following the completion of the route check.

Out With The Old, In With The New!

A happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year to you all; 2017 has arrived.

It is likely to turn out to be a very important year for Winterbourne Stoke.  Possibly this will be one of the most important years in the long history of the village as it should herald changes that will impact on the fabric of our day to day lives.  They are likely to introduce a range of social changes that we need to grasp and embrace to fully benefit from, or, we can try and fight against them through fear of change and risk losing many of the advances and advantages that such change can bring.

Of course, not all change is necessarily good and we are all going to have to look very carefully at what is going on and weigh things up carefully.  Even that isn’t going to be straightforward, as we need to think not only about how these changes are going to impact us, but also how they will affect our children, our grandchildren and generations not yet imagined.

So, what are these events that are going to be so important?

First, we have the coming of Superfast broadband.  It’s long overdue and many villagers are going to embrace even a modest improvement in speed with open arms, provided the service is reliable.  Hopefully, the whole of the core of the village should get speeds of 24 Mbps or above.   Those of you who have had access to reasonable broadband speeds at work and outside the village generally will know of at least some of the benefits this type of service can bring and there are many more to come: from education and health, to social inclusivity and recreation.  Even those who fight against the tide will notice the benefits as faster broadband speeds impact on house prices and attract businesses which would not be viable without such improvements in speed.  More business may lead to more jobs and a diversification of employment.

Second, is the A303.  The Highways England plan to create a world-class Expressway to link the south west and south east of England is well underway.  They are planning to go out to public consultation on the possible routes early this year where we will all be able to have our say.  After the consultation, Highways England plan to combine the feedback received with further technical analysis (a lot has been going on in the background over the last year!) and they will use this to decide their “preferred route” and this will be formally put to the Secretary of State for Transport this summer.  With luck, the Development Consent Order process will be completed and work will begin in 2020.

Just like the Superfast broadband, it will bring benefits in communication, and accessibility.  It has the potential to improve lives, health and quality of life for villagers.  Moving the A303 from the heart of the village may impact positively on house prices, but may have a negative effect on some of the businesses like the garage and the pub which may need to evolve to survive.  That said, the same change will introduce possibilities for new businesses that would not be possible with the existing infrastructure.

The key to Winterbourne Stoke making the most of these changes is engagement and timeliness.  We need to engage early, with each other, with all the bodies and organisations who are going to be involved and we need to make our voices heard – collectively and individually.  Your Parish Council will do its part, but we need everyone to do their bit.

In the past, change has been slow in rural communities, sometimes even glacial.  That isn’t going to be the case for us over the next few years.  We aren’t going to have the luxury of pontificating on things for weeks, or months on end.  Information and decisions are going to be needed in days at most, if not hours.  If you think this is a bit of hyperbole, think again.  The Highways Agency now has a Twitter feed for improvements to the A303 Stonehenge section.  The traditional ways of engagement are simply too slow and cumbersome in today’s world, so we will have to play the game with the rules in the new rule book, not the rules we might wish to have.

If we do this well and responsibly, we can leave a legacy to be proud of.