COMMUNITIES and businesses on Exmoor are furious at being left in the lurch after the contractor pulled out of building a 30 metre mobile mast, just days after planning permission was granted.

Arqiva walked away from the Haddon Hill project because it does not believe it can complete construction before the Government imposed funding deadline of March 31 next year. Failure to complete before the deadline means Arqiva would not get paid by the Government.

The Exmoor National Park Authority and South West Water were poised to sign the contract when Arqiva unilaterally pulled the plug on the Government-funded project.

As a result, hundreds of families and dozens of businesses on Exmoor and the surrounding area could continue to be without any mobile connectivity for many years to come.

Now, residents, local councils and business organisations are appealing to the Government to urgently get the project back on track by extending the deadline.

Ed Vaizey MP, The Minister of State at the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been bombarded with letters from councils, Exmoor business organisations and residents, urging him to grant an extension to the funding deadline.

Among those who are appealed to the Minister are the Exmoor National Park Authority, Business Exmoor, The Exmoor Holiday Group, both Upton and Skilgate Parish Councils, and Somerset District and Somerset County Councillors.

They argue that while the rest of Britain is seeing the benefits of a strong mobile signal and the rollout of superfast broadband, large swathes of Exmoor will remain in the ‘Dark Ages’ when it comes to mobile phone technology and broadband.

Terry Brownbill, spokesman for the Business Exmoor Communications Committee and owner of a self-catering business on Exmoor, said: “The Government needs to move quickly to get this project back on track. It is difficult for any business to be competitive without modern communication.

"We are operating in conditions that would shame many Third World countries and I hope the Government recognises this and acts decisively.”

Upton Parish Councillor Jane North said: “Residents of both Upton and Skilgate have followed and supported this Haddon Hill mobile mast planning application and we were all delighted when the plan was approved last week. Then we had the bombshell of Arqiva pulling out and there is a great deal of anger about it as a result.

I hope the Government can see the merit of the case and extend the funding deadline.”

Gareth Hughes, Skilgate Parish Council Chairman said: “Everyone in Skilgate is alarmed at the sudden turnaround of events. We have been desperately in need of a mobile signal for years. Then, just as we were celebrating the imminent arrival of 21st Century communications, the rug was pulled from under us."