AN internet provider is going to court over claims that a local authority is blocking its access to grass verges, where it wants to put in the cables needed to provide a faster service.

Virgin Media accused Durham County Council of putting up a “broadband blockade” because it wants to charge the company for access to its grass verges.

The case is thought to be the first of its kind to come before a tribunal following the introduction of a new Electronic Communications Code (EEC), brought in in December to make it easier for network operators to install and maintain apparatus.

Tom Mockridge, Virgin’s chief executive, said: “By demanding money for land access Durham County Council is now putting up a broadband blockade to thousands of homes and businesses across the county.

“Durham has no basis for imposing any kind of a land levy in these circumstances and its attitude runs counter to that we have faced from more forward-thinking councils. This issue goes wider than the city of Durham. Haggling over land access when we build in a new area slows down broadband rollout and deters investment.”

Virgin Media, which announced last November that it wanted to extend its network to up to 16,000 properties in Durham by the end of 2019, said the council was proposing a “hefty” per metre levy, but declined to say how much it was.

Stuart Timmiss, head of planning and assets at Durham County Council, said: “We are extremely disappointed that Virgin Media has decided to take this course of action as we were under the impression we had a good constructive dialogue and that we were awaiting further information that we had requested from them.”

He added: “The roll out of superfast broadband across our county is very important to us and we will continue to work with all providers in finding the best way to achieve this.

“Our work through the Digital Durham programme is rolling out fibre based broadband right across the county ensuring all households have access to superfast broadband. Providers such as Virgin Media only provide broadband services to certain areas within the county which they deem to be commercially viable.”

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) will now seek to reach an agreement.