A PLEDGE to turn Colchester into the UK's first High Speed Wireless Town has suffered a major setback.

In July last year Colchester Council announced plans to introduce the latest broadband and wireless technology to the borough.

Nearly 18 months on no progress has been made.

It has emerged one of the would-be partners - the Cloud with BSkyB - has pulled out of the project.

The Cloud was the preferred partner to set up a Wi-Fi network in the town centre, which would allow shoppers using Smartphones or laptop computers to receive information about special offers and one-off events taking place.

Paul Bentham, manager at Lion Walk shopping centre, said: “It’s a real shame. The council made a big splash about this 18 months ago and it all goes quiet because something hasn’t worked.”

If a deal is signed the infrastructure, including 20cm-tall micro aerials dotted around the town centre, can be in place within six weeks.

Talks are ongoing for a related project to use the Colchester’s network of CCTV cameras to bring faster broadband to businesses and town residents.

The authority also wants to improve broadband speeds in rural parts of the borough as part of its digital strategy.

A spokesman said: “Following a strategic review of their business earlier this year BskyB/The Cloud the company has withdrawn from deployment of digital infrastructure in small to medium sized cities in the UK (such as Colchester) to concentrate on large cities (Birmingham).

“An alternative partner has been identified and we would anticipate announcing details shortly, once the legal arrangements have been agreed.

“The council is currently in on-going discussions with a new provider to deliver superfast broadband and a mobile wireless mesh of wi-fi hotspots in the town centre.”

A Cloud spokesman said: "We can confirm we are no longer involved with this project, however, for reasons of client confidentiality we never discuss the details of any of our contracts.”