KENDAL looks set to become the first town in the North to offer free Wi-Fi to shoppers and tourists.
South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) has submitted plans for Wi-Fi antennae to be installed at three prime spots.
The scheme, designed to promote independent businesses and tourism, would make Kendal a ‘pioneer for the region’, say its promoters.
The plan has been greeted with delight by retailers, tourism businesses and local people.
Although planning consent has yet to be granted, it is almost certain to go through because SLDC is applying to itself for backing.
The antennae will be fitted at Finkle Street, Market Place and on the Town Hall – making Kendal only the fourth town in England to offer free Wi-Fi access to everyone.
The devices, which will together cost up to £30,000, will provide an internet signal to the whole town centre and anybody can connect free using a smart phone.
A new Kendal website is set to be the ‘home page’ when anybody logs on to the internet, showing users what shops, restaurants, attractions and services are available.
Currently, people in the town centre find it impossible to get a reliable connection on their phones.
Giles Archibald, SLDC’s town centres and small business portfolio holder, said he hoped the scheme would be up and running before the Comic Art Festival in October.
He said Wi-Fi could be completely free for around half an hour, after which users would pay a small charge to retain the connection.
The scheme would be ‘rolled-out’ across South Lakeland if a two-year trial period in Kendal succeeded.
“It’s all part of the vision for Kendal agreed between the town council and SLDC,” said Coun Archibald. “This will increase the attractiveness of Kendal for visitors and will also enable businesses to advertise on the home page.
Kendal mayor Tom Clare said: “The town council believes it will help to support local businesses which we are very anxious to do. What it demonstrates is that Kendal is a dynamic place to visit.”
Ian Stephens, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Free Wi-Fi in a destination enhances the overall customer experience and we welcome the plans for Kendal.”
Robyn Postlethwaite, 17, said: “It’s an amazing idea because it means I could go on Facebook any time and if I run out of credit on my phone I can go online to contact people. I’d use it all the time.”
Many companies, like the Brewery Arts Centre, do most of their business online – and free wi-fi was expected to boost custom.
Spokesman Debbie Bond said: “This can only be good for Kendal.”