Developers can play pivotal role in improving Scotland’s digital connectivity

Jim Fitzsimons

By Jim Fitzsimons, director of special projects at Stewart Milne Group, the developer behind Countesswells 

Improving digital infrastructure is key to the future success of the Scottish economy.

There are still too many parts of Scotland that have woefully inadequate broadband connectivity and local and national government initiatives are not addressing the problems quickly enough.

In bringing forward Aberdeen’s largest new “town” at Countesswells, we’ve installed ultrafast broadband. We believe that what we’ve done here should and could be replicated by other developers across Scotland and indeed should be a key consideration when planning new housing or mixed-use developments.

Residents and businesses at our new £800 million community to the west of Aberdeen will have access to broadband that is 35 times faster than the UK average. In what is believed to be a first for a new town development, we decided to install the fibre optic network necessary to deliver such high speeds at the same time as it was bringing other services, such as gas and drainage, onto the site.

Countesswells is the first community in Scotland to have access to 1Gbps. This means that a 4k movie, which would typically take eight hours to download, will take just over ten minutes.

Ultrafast connectivity can be harnessed to grow existing businesses; attract further investment; create new businesses; and enhance Scotland’s attractiveness as a place to live and work. Broadband connectivity is now a part of everyday life and one of the first things new home buyers ask for. Typically, developers have been slow to reflect this as part of their offering. At Countesswells, ultrafast digital connectivity was at the heart of designing the new community.

But our vision to make Countesswells the most connected community in Scotland goes beyond bringing the highest broadband speeds into homes. Providing the fibre network is just the start. How you use it is the exciting bit. By installing the internal fibre network across the community, we are future-proofing to such an extent that households could have direct links with the services provided on site such as schools and health centres, enabling home consultations for example. We’re working closely with the local authority as part of the overall approach to place-making to see what is possible.

Businesses on-site will also benefit from the connectivity, whether it be to promote working from home or to attract businesses who rely on superfast connections to transfer huge amounts of data.

We identified the best partner, Grain, and then installed the best fibre network available, along with the work on existing and new roads, which made it relatively cost-effective.

The wider Aberdeenshire region can benefit from what we’ve already done, but rolling it out more widely will require support from the public sector

Local authorities and developers can work closely together to provide the connectivity needed to drive economic growth in Scotland and we believe the forward-thinking and innovative partnership that has been created at Countesswells should be considered across the country.

Countesswells signed an agreement for internet service provider Grain to provide hyperfast broadband to the site. SSE Enterprise Telecoms were then appointed to support part of the roll-out with enough national fibre background. Grain’s fibre network is now ready and waiting the day residents and businesses move in, providing hyperfast broadband and a crystal-clear fibre telephone connection. Once fully set up at Countesswells, Grain could explore solutions for residents in other areas of Aberdeen to try to solve the broadband problems they are experiencing. Ultimately, our hyperfast broadband could be accessible right across the city.