Just 15 masts have been erected in three years, well short of the 600 mast target set for the project when it was first unveiled in 2011.
During a recent government debate, the UK’s digital economy minister Ed Vaizey admitted he is “guilty as charged” over the project’s failure.
“I do not think the programme has been a success, and I do not think that ministers often say that about their own programmes,” he told MPs. “We set aside £150m. We talked about 600 sites. Our heart was in the right place.”
Vaizey claimed that part of the project’s slow progress was down to the country’s mobile players, as well as objections from local residents and planners.
The country’s four operators (EE, O2, Vodafone and 3 UK) had pledged support, stating they will fund each sites’ operating cost for up to 20 years. “We were dragging the four operators with us, metaphorically kicking and screaming,” Vaizey said.
It was also claimed in the debate that Wiltshire Council missed the deadline for planning approval for a mast because it was too busy arguing about what colour it should be.
By the end of 2015, the project spend had totalled a reported £9.1m although MPs were told that it may still be possible for the remaining funds to be repurposed for further projects.
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