RESIDENTS of Bournemouth could be facing more than a year of upheaval as roads and pavements are dug up to make superfast broadband available to thousands of homes and businesses.

The Fibrecity project was originally going to run fibre optic cables through the town’s sewers. But after a pilot scheme linking the Town Hall and BIC, Wessex Water decided not to continue, citing financial and technical reasons.

Now the company behind the £30 million project, i3, is being forced to use more traditional methods to create the network, which is due to be in place by next autumn. Work in the Kinson and Charminster areas has already led to complaints from residents.

Elfed Thomas, chief executive officer of the group, expressed his disappointment over the setback. “When we announced Fibrecity Bournemouth, it was with the permission of Wessex Water to utilise the pipes where appropriate, keeping disruption to residents and businesses to a minimum,” he said.

“We had completed successful trials and planned to move on to delivery on a commercial basis. During the rollout, contractual issues have meant that we have had to find alternative means to deliver Fibrecity Bournemouth.

“As our technology uses three low-cost methodologies, we have been able to avoid the rollout coming to a halt, and all works being carried out in Bournemouth are with the consent of the borough council, having gone through the necessary planning routes.”

Mr Thomas said other water companies had seen the advantages of i3’s FS System, a method of laying fibre in ready-made ducts such as sewage pipes.

They not only receive payment for access to the pipes, half of which has to be reinvested in their core business, but the process also helps them with maintenance and repair.

“It is our opinion that Wessex Water has been short sighted in putting commercial demands above the opportunity to provide a low cost fibre optic network that will deliver superfast broadband to its own customers,” said Mr Thomas.

Clare-Marie Dobing, spokeswoman for Wessex Water, said: “There are issues concerning commercial confidentiality between Wessex Water and i3, therefore we are not prepared to comment at this stage.”

Tony Williams, the council’s executive director for economy and environment, said: “These are contractual arrangements between Fibrecity and Wessex Water. Fibrecity has reassured us that the project is still proceeding in Bournemouth.”