A LAST ditch bid to ensure rural Teesdale does not miss out on super-fast broadband has been made amid continuing criticism of the way the issue has been handled.

Durham County Council is trying to secure £1.53m through the Government's Community Broadband Fund to improve the broadband service to parts of upper Teesdale and Weardale.

To do so, the county must prove it has at least 50 per cent support for the scheme from residents, community groups and businesses.

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However, the council has come under fire for badly-arranged information sessions arranged at short notice and a badly worded questionnaire.

At a board meeting of the Teesdale Action Partnership (TAP) on Wednesday, members agreed that while the process had been “utterly flawed,” they would use every method available to ensure the dale did not miss out.

Councillor Barbara Harrison, who represents Barnard Castle West, said: “We can tap into all sorts of networks – we have got to utilise all the resources we have.”

TAP co-ordinator Craig Morgan is to contact Durham County Council's head of ICT Phil Jackman to find out what can be done to ensure enough support is registered by the March 22 deadline.

TAP board chairman David Kinch suggested asking for an extension to the deadline.

Earlier, Mickleton resident David Kelly had presented the board with a list of 25 questions about the broadband consultation he said needed to be addressed by Durham County Council.

Board member Michele (CRCT) Armstrong responded: “A lot of the questions talk about the process, which has been completely and utterly flawed.”

Mr Kinch said he believed the rushed consultation process did not meet statutory requirements, which should have given everyone at least eight weeks to respond.

Coun Richard Bell, who also represents Barnard Castle West, said the first he knew about the issue was when he read about the drop-in sessions in the local papers.

He said this was surprising, given that broadband has been a top priority of the TAP since its formation and the county's ICT officials were aware of the dale's great interest in the issue.

“It was our number one priority in our first year, so how something like this has come out of left-field at a moment's notice is beyond me.”

It was agreed Mr Kelly's questions would be addressed at a meeting to be arranged between TAP members, Mr Jackman and MP Helen Goodman.

In the meantime, Durham County Council has arranged a final set of drop-in sessions about super-fast broadband before the March 22 deadline.

The first will be held at the Weardale Outdoor Centre on Wednesday, March 20, from 4pm-7pm.

Teedale meetings will be held on Thursday, March 21, at Lunedale Community Centre from 1pm-3.30pm and the Fox and Hounds pub, Cotherstone, from 5pm-7pm.

Anyone unable to attend can complete the survey online by searching for ‘broadband survey’ at www.durham.gov.uk. Alternatively, contact the Digital Durham team on 03000-261160 or email digital.durham@durham.gov.uk