RESIDENTS and businesses in rural communities in North Yorkshire could soon have better mobile phone coverage thanks to a new initiative.

The county council is working with mobile phone operators EE, O2, Vodafone and 3 to improve coverage as part of plans to improve economic growth in the county.

The initiative builds on continuing work by the authority to bring high-speed broadband access to remote communities as it develops the county’s digital infrastructure.

The council says the move supports the authority’s Plan for Growth, which aims to increase good-quality jobs, improve access to economic opportunities and boost average wages.

The plan recognises the importance of rural areas in delivering economic growth and how better mobile phone coverage is vital to achieving those aims, alongside further investment in broadband coverage and in road and rail infrastructure and support for new housing suitable for a developing workforce.

County councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for access, said better mobile phone coverage was “essential” for business growth and to encourage people to live in the area.

“We are committed to supporting better mobile coverage. It is essential to do so if our county is to encourage business growth and attract visitors and people to live in the area,” he said.

“Currently, issues exist around the varying levels of coverage across the county, including ‘not spots’ with no coverage and areas with a poor signal or call-only 2G coverage.

“Large parts of the county are poorly served and there is a need for communities, district planners and mobile operators to work together to overcome opposition to mast installations.

“We know these issues must be addressed if we are to meet our aspirations for economic growth.

“To that end, the county council successfully bid to the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership for £2m from the Local Growth Fund, subject to a detailed business case.

“This will be available to support investment in increasing mobile coverage as plans are developed. We have also appointed a programme manager to work with mobile operators, planners and communities to identify opportunities to improve coverage across the county.”

The programme manager Michael Grayson is now liaising with mobile operators to develop a coverage map of the area, identifying ‘not spots’ and where new sites should be provided.

The council said he will work with planning authorities to help them to understand what operators are trying to achieve.

He is also working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the Local Government and Mobile Network Operator Pilot Group to look at how county council land and buildings can be used to support the mobile network.

The council says it has recently seen improvements in 3G and 4G coverage in areas including Catterick Garrison, Whitby, South Otterington, with more improvements expected in the coming months.

Mr Grayson is meeting communities to discuss their needs and issues relating to mobile coverage. He is available to speak to parish councils and can be contacted at; or on 01609-533257.