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Law firm acts for city council on 20-year digital infrastructure partnership

Law firm Bevan Brittan has advised Sunderland City Council on a 20-year strategic partnership to design, build and operate next generation digital infrastructure.

The project, said to be the first of its kind in the country, saw a seven-strong team from Bevan Brittan advise on procurement, contracts and negotiations for the local authority in its partnership with BAI Communications.

The first phase of the partnership will see a backbone of 5G connectivity, based on a neutral host model, established within the city by Summer 2022.

It is hoped that this new high speed 5G coverage will provide a platform for business growth and innovation, bringing substantial social and economic benefits to the city’s residents, businesses and visitors, including the creation of more than 100 jobs.

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The project will also enable autonomous vehicles at the city’s Nissan site, which employs more than 6,000 people.

The Bevan Brittan team also advised on this element of the project, which has seen a small 5G ring installed at the site on the outskirts of Sunderland. 

The council is looking to use the new 5G technology in areas like traffic management, sensors to monitor pollution and sensors for people living in assisted living homes as it moves towards being an integrated smart city.

Bevan Brittan said that, due to the innovative nature of the partnership, its team had to create contracts to cover the ground-breaking nature of the technology deal and ensure the partnership could operate effectively and legally.

They also had to ensure compliance for the new technology installations with existing telecoms legislation and are assisting with requirements to vary existing PFI agreements to enable the 5G technology to be fitted to the city’s street lights.

Richard Lane, partner and technology law expert at Bevan Brittan, who led the team, said: “We’re delighted to have been able to help Sunderland take the lead in this exciting partnership to develop cutting-edge 5G technology for thousands of people and businesses.

“The neutral host element of this project is particularly interesting as it will mean that all mobile providers can buy capacity. Many other councils are waiting for mobile networks themselves to install 5G, but the issue is that it is much more expensive than 4G or 3G networks because it needs more equipment.

“Sunderland has shown real innovation in going down the neutral host route and will be able to roll out its 5G faster, with benefits for people, businesses and also to anyone looking to invest in the area. It’s been a fascinating project to support with and we will continue to support the council as this develops.”

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive, Sunderland City Council, said: “This is an incredibly significant milestone in the development and future of Sunderland Our Smart City. We are very much looking forward to our 20-year strategic partnership with BAI, as its team helps us realise our ambitions and make our goals a reality.

“We are confident the benefits of this partnership will reach every resident, organisation and business within our city and indeed the wider area.”

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