Plans underway for the Chew Valley's first superfast internet cafe

By Selina Cuff in Technology

A planning application has been submitted to Bath & North East Somerset [B&NES] Council to build a wif-fi cafe at Westway Farm Business Centre.

The former dairy farm was developed into a business park with rentable office space in the late 80s and is home to a diverse range of local businesses including IT company Soltech, My Kind of Yoga, accountants Williams Harris Limited, and Avalon Osteopathetic Clinic. Now site owner David Gillard is looking to expand the facilities further to provide residents the opportunity to access superfast broadband which the businesses at Westway already enjoy the use of.

Three years ago Mr Gillard installed a dedicated superfast fibre cable to the site. Whilst the majority of residents and businesses have had to sit and wait for the promised arrival of ‘superfast’ broadband through schemes like the government backed Connecting Devon and Somerset, only to find out that their properties are too rural or too far from the nearest ‘cabinet’ to benefit from the installation, some business owners like Mr Gillard have taken a more proactive approach and secured for their properties superfast broadband. Last January the Gazette reported how local business Soltech, had relocated to Westway Farm from their previous home in Chew Stoke in search of better internet.

At the time Soltech IT Managing Director Richard Sheppard told the Gazette that if it had not been for Mr Gillard’s investment the company, which was founded in the valley, would have had to leave the area.

“Businesses are being forced out of the valley because of the broadband issues and lack of commericial buildings,” said Mr Sheppard in January 2016. “We didn’t want to go to Bristol, all our staff live locally, our customer base is local and we wanted to stay local.”

The move certainly proved fortuitous; in the past year Soltech have expanded both their client base and employee numbers due to their ability to provide faster and wider ranging IT services thanks to the Westway Farm superfast connection.

Now plans are afoot to open this connection up to the public by building an internet cafe on the site of a disused equestrian riding arena on the site.

“We think it would be good to let the village use the superfast connection we have,” Westway Farm owner David Gillard told the Gazette. Mr Gillard explained that customers at the cafe will be able to access 1GB internet speed connections, which will not only make it a superfast internet cafe but will also be the first time the Chew Valley has been home to such a venture.

The two storey development will not only house the wifi cafe but several commercial units offering more businesses the opportunity to rent space at the site.

The plans are currently open to comment on the B&NES Planning portal, ref 17/02860/FUL. No comments or objections have been lodged so far on the website. The consultation period ends on the 10th August so those wishing to lodge a comment should do so by then.

The application for planning permission for the new development comes at the same time that local broadband provider TrueSpeed announce they have secured £75 million to bring ‘ultrafast’ to homes and businesses in the area (see article above for more details).

Mr Gillard said that Westway Farm had began developing the idea of the internet cafe long before the TrueSpeed investment was known, and whilst the arrival of fibre-to-premises broadband may reduce the demand for an internet cafe they were still going ahead with the plans, if planning permission could be secured.

“It is worth a try,” said Mr Gillard who has proven before that when it comes to superfast broadband in the Chew Valley, being proactive produces more benefits than just sitting and waiting for its promised arrival.

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