RIKKI Hunt has conceded that it may be another year before Swindon’s wi-fi network is complete across the borough after his town-wide scheme missed another crucial deadline.

The chief executive of Digital City UK said he was frustrated by the delays and admitted how, with hindsight, he would have used a different approach to deliver free internet access to the town.

Mr Hunt, 56, originally promised the whole town would benefit from limited free wi-fi by April this year, but as that deadline passed the Highworth pilot scheme was still incomplete.

The Highworth trial, which was billed as providing 100 per cent coverage, was then due to be completed by September but is still not finished.

He said yesterday that he was hoping that the Swindon network would be complete by this time next year.

Mr Hunt said: “I would write it differently if I was starting today and it would still be successful.

“I am 100 per cent committed to the concept. I think the PR ran away with us – it was fabulous on one level but there was a negative. Some people will say ‘did you not realise the issues before?’ and of course we did.

“On one level we did not do enough and this is the negative out of a positive – the PR that was driven by the project made us move more quickly that we planned.”

In response to a question about the failure to meet a single deadline during a live radio interview yesterday, said: “We haven’t actually but that’s life”, before adding that he was optimistic wi-fi would be available across the borough by this time next year.

Reacting to those comments he told the Adver: “It’s business – nobody sets out to miss deadlines and what I meant was not “that’s life” but when I do miss something I see it as something I need to go and get done.

“That’s part of the process – you don’t progress unless you learn from your losses. It was not meant to be flippant. I take it very seriously.

“Just because something went wrong does not mean it is wrong – it just means do something else and put it right.”

Swindon Council and Digital City came under fire when in April it was announced the council would loan Mr Hunt £450,000 for a 35 per cent equity stake in the firm.

The whole project is estimated to cost between £1.5m and £2.5m, including the capital provided by the council.

Fears over the persistent delays and failings with the £150,000 Highworth pilot have called into question the possibility of a return on the council’s loan but Mr Hunt said interest was being paid.

He said: “The biggest single objective is making sure that loan is secure and I would like it paid back quicker.

“Will the council get the money back? I would hope so because if they don’t, nobody does. When people say they don’t believe the business model all I can say is I do and I’m the one with all the weight on my shoulders.”

He went on to say delays had been due to technical issues, including installation of wi-fi boxes on concrete lampposts, and council bureaucracy.

He said: “In part it’s technical and its delays that have happened by intervention and the council needing to investigate the process.

“I think in hindsight I was very optimistic.

“I was trying to be optimistic to give people hope. I will still have those targets but I will keep them to myself.

“I’ve been beaten for being optimistic and I’m OK with that because I’m always optimistic.

“The relationship between the council and Digital City, as shareholders, is actually very strong. I have been in many business partnerships – I would expect there to be tensions from time to time. The executive have been quite tough with me and I think that’s good and I expect that.

“I have been pleasantly surprised and pleasantly frustrated at times.”

Mr Hunt said the number of people who have signed up to the free wi-fi service up to the end of September totalled 5,100 and in that month it had 453 unique users who spend an average of 45 minutes online.

He added he could not give any further dates for delivery to other areas and the firm was in the process of planning and reshaping its business plan.

The Adver was unable to contact deputy leader of Swindon council Coun Garry Perkins, who sits on the board, for a comment about the situation.