East Suffolk towns to be digitally transformed

Twelve towns in East Suffolk are to benefit from new technology including free WiFi and footfall tracking, to help high streets and town centres recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Following a successful pilot in Framlingham last year, East Suffolk’s ‘Smart Towns’ Project will now be rolled out to 11 other market towns across the district.

The project will provide free WiFi for visitors in the main shopping areas of each town, as well as providing footfall tracking technology to help town councils and business groups understand how and when residents and visitors use these areas. This data will enable them to improve services and offerings to attract more visitors, as well as gauging the success of events and specific promotions.

‘Smart Towns’ uses the same principles as ‘Smart City’ technology, where urban areas use electronic data to continuously monitor and improve services. However, ‘Smart Towns’ will instead use this technology to benefit rural town centres, high streets and communities.

Many local businesses have been adversely affected by Covid-19 and it is hoped the project will help ensure business sustainability. As well as free WiFi and footfall tracking, the ‘Smart Towns’ project will provide a ‘digital springboard’ for local businesses, enabling them to maximise the benefits of the digital economy. Businesses will be able to access digital diagnostics, workshops and coaching to help them get the most from new technology, such as improved websites and social media use, contactless payments, online booking systems, or attracting customers through digital vouchers, apps and loyalty schemes.

Cllr Stephen Burroughes, East Suffolk’s cabinet member for Customer Services, Operational Partnerships and Digital Transformation, said: “Our high streets and town centres have been affected by lockdown restrictions and we are doing all we can to support businesses to reopen safely and to encourage people back to our town centres. Post Covid-19, there is now more emphasis on digital platforms, with many customers changing the way they shop and access services. We want to help local businesses adapt to this by giving them the tools and support they need to reconnect with their customers, accelerate their recovery and help their business to thrive.

“The whole community will benefit from the new technology; residents and visitors will be better connected when in the town centres through free WiFi and will also be able to stay informed about upcoming events, offers and local news directly relating to their town.”

In addition to Framlingham, the scheme will now be introduced in Aldeburgh, Beccles, Bungay, Felixstowe, Halesworth, Leiston, Lowestoft, Saxmmundham, Southwold, Wickham Market and Woodbridge.

Work to roll out the scheme is to begin later this summer and be completed within two years. It is hoped that, in future, smaller towns and villages may also benefit.

To date, around £400,000 has been spent on bringing the project forward, with cabinet approving a further £500,000 from its transformation reserve budget.