THERE was a fresh twist in the wi-fi saga last night when Digital City announced it was looking for new private investment.

The firm behind the project is said to be in “positive” discussions over securing new suitors to boost the beleaguered project, but chief executive Rikki Hunt remained tight-lipped about the negotiations.

Controversy has surrounded the scheme since it was revealed the council loaned Digital City £450,000 in return for a 35 per cent stake in the start-up company.

Since it was launched in December 2009, severe delays have meant the promise of town-wide limited free wi-fi by December last year went unfulfilled, with only the Highworth pilot area being completed.

Yesterday’s statement made it clear that any potential deal with a private firm would include a commitment to an early repayment of the loan – of which Digital City has so far drawn £350,000.

Last night, Mr Hunt confirmed he was still leading the project and investors were being sought to try and get it back on track.

He said: “The goal is to get the progress that we are sadly lacking.

“We are just looking at financing the business – we have been delayed and now it’s about how do we move forward quickly.

"It would be a great opportunity if we can raise the finance.

“It is absolutely key, and it always has been for me, that we get the loan paid on time.

"I don’t think it’s a potential stumbling block so long as somebody’s got the appetite. I think it’s important that the council stays there as a partner.

“It’s really, really hard because of what has gone before to put times on these things.”

In a statement, deputy leader of the council, Coun Garry Perkins, who is also the council’s representative on the Digital City board, said: “I remain convinced about the potential of the wi-fi project.

“It is clear the progress made to date has not been what all involved at the outset had hoped for.

“However, things don’t always go as you plan in business, particularly when you are dealing with something that is innovative.

“Rather than dwell on the past, I am determined to proactively seek out new opportunities to reshape this initiative so it can realise its potential and deliver something positive for the people of Swindon.”

Coun Derique Montaut, leader of the Labour opposition, said: “I have been uneasy right from the very start of this business partnership.

"I had serious reservations with risking council taxpayers’ money in private investment.

“It was inevitable something was going to happen and it does not surprise me. But these type of discussions ought to be taken in a more open and transparent form in the future.

“Those involved in the decision-making need to be held to account.”