The Northern Half of North West England is sidelined by the BBC and by ITV Granada

View west towards Mallerstang and- beyond- to the Lakeland fells from east of Kirkby Stephen. Cumbria is often short-changed in BBC output and much of the county receives BBC Regional Programming from- and largely concerning- North East England.

The BBC plan to make more cuts to Regional News programming in England- quite despite the fact that people rely on good local news relevant to their communities and favourite haunts. This is despite the fact that, for many rural areas in Northern England, mainly those areas north of cities, get scant mention (and can hardly be described as “The News Wherever You Are”, as the National BBC News-Anchor likes to conclude the National News). This little article about the future of BBC news should make sobering reading:

I am currently staying at a lovely establishment in the small town of Kirkby Stephen in the upper Eden Valley in Cumbria, close to the border with North Yorkshire. This area gets its BBC Regional News from Newcastle (BBC Look North) and today “The News Where You Are”, as explained by the main BBC News Presenter to the good people of Kirkby Stephen, was a news- report about Ryanair redundancies at Newcastle Airport, crime in Blyth (south-east Northumberland) and a report about Marske (east of Middlesbrough). The closest (arguably) to Kirkby Stephen was a report about farmers in North Yorkshire letting their fields to campers- though the area featured was near the North York Moors near Whitby- and a long way from Kirkby Stephen.

There was no coverage of Cumbria on BBC Look North lunchtime news today, neither was there yesterday. Viewers of BBC North West Tonight who live in the south of Cumbria also got no mention of their own county on BBC North West Tonight, a good 100,000 of these South Cumbrian viewers cannot get ITV Border and they have to contend with the even-worse ITV Granada Reports which rarely, if ever, really covers South Cumbria (and which never covers northern Cumbria).

That this state of affairs is shocking for Cumbrian viewers of Regional Television is something that I have covered in previous posts: What is more shocking, in the light of BBC Cuts and Regional Television being left solely to Market forces is the very real danger that Cumbria will lose the only good Regional News programme that they have got; that is ITV Border with their flagship news-programme Lookaround: This Regional News programme for ITV Border’s viewers provides over 50% coverage of Cumbrian issues alone. However, parts of South Cumbria and all of northern Lancashire cannot get ITV Border, only the non- Cumbria-covering  Granada!

There is a relic of the ITV Tyne-Tees Border tie -up today: All of ITV Border’s programmers are based in Gateshead, in North East England. The big concern has to be whether ITV will use the challenging financial environment brought on by the Coronavirus Recession to re-amalgamate its Border region with the Tyne Tees region- or worse a new ITV North consisting of the former Border, Tyne-Tees and Yorkshire ITV Regions, with southern Scotland shifted to STV. Cumbria would join northern Lancashire in one large geographical  area of northern North West England getting shafted by ITV (as well as BBC) should ITV decide to mothball their Border Region.

The whole sorry situation throws up those important questions: Does Cumbria as whole and individual places in the county get Regional and Local news that can be considered effective and local? Secondly, is the Regional News received in parts of Cumbria the most appropriate for the locality. Even ITV Border, the Cumbrian version of which covers the county extremely well throw up questions of Regional affiliation and identity for parts of West Cumbria and the central Lakes- if only because of the tie-up with ITV Tyne Tees: West Cumbria and the area around Ambleside-if they get an ITV Border Tyne-Tees merged news at weekends are very much, by any definition, in the North West of England. This is one reason the North East- centric output from BBC Look North is not appropriate for places like Whitehaven, Egremont and Keswick. Firstly, nowhere in North East England is local to any part of West Cumbria and secondly it defies geographical fact when West Cumbria is very clearly in North West England.

This is not an argument for ITV to shift all of Cumbria into the ITV Granada Region by disbanding the Border Region (a truly ghastly prospect), nor for northern and central Cumbria to be shifted to the BBC North West Region in its current form (that was tried in the 1980’s and it did not find favour with North Cumbrians).

The solution to all these issues is for Cumbria and Lancashire to be part of a brand new BBC North West Region, with an opt-out for Cumbria and North Lancashire. This new Regional News could be transmitted from main Winter Hill transmitter, with Manchester included in the south of the transmission area. Merseyside, Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire would have their own BBC North West news transmitted from the Shoreton transmitter in Merseyside, with programming produced from studios in Liverpool.

The new BBC North West covering Cumbria, Lancashire, and as far south as Manchester would also include the Isle of Man and provide a 15-minute opt-out in the main bulletins for this Crown Dependency. The opt-out for Cumbria and North Lancashire would, likewise, be 15 minutes long in the main evening bulletins, the lunchtime bulletins should be 100% opt-out coverage transmitted from transmitters at Caldbeck and at Lancaster. These measures would result in all of Cumbria and North Lancashire getting excellent local news output.

In addition, one in ten news-items in the main bulletins when all viewers in the new BBC North West should be overlap coverage covering any serious or significant events in an extended area up to an hour’s drive outside the transmission area: Thus the overlap zone for coverage of serious news-events in the new BBC North West Region would extend to Merseyside, Cheshire, NW Derbyshire and North Staffordshire to the south, as far east as a line running from Sheffield to Bradford to Darlington to Newcastle up on Tyne- and so taking in western West and South Yorkshire, the western and interior Yorkshire Dales and western Durham and Northumberland to the east. To the north the overlap zone for the new BBC North West (serving Cumbria, Lancashire, the Isle of Man and Northern Greater Manchester) would extend across southern Scotland right up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. This overlap zone would ensure that those at the periphery of the new BBC North West transmission area get to see news about events significant to them, but which are outside the transmission area.

As a solution for Regional News programming for the northern two-thirds of North West England and the Isle of Man, the above would tick the right boxes. Lancashire, South Cumbria and also the Isle of Man would get much more localised coverage, with Regional output being clearly from the geographical North West of England. Viewers would also get coverage of locations that they frequent that are to the north of them, i.e. the Lake District, which is a major hinterland and tourist destination for folk living in Lancashire and Manchester.

Viewers in northern Cumbria also benefit from the special opt-out programming giving them much more local news- coverage. The overlap zone extending north-east as far as Newcastle upon Tyne, and north across southern Scotland would also satisfy those who live in the North of Cumbria who want recognition of their areas’ links towards Newcastle and the Scottish Borders, rather than Lancashire/ Manchester. The background other coverage from other places in North West England is, however, true to the geographical fact that Cumbria is in North West England. However, with the opt-out Cumbrian viewers would be getting 50% coverage of Cumbria.

The big objection to all of this is, of course, money: The cost of a new BBC Region, complete with opt-outs for the Isle of Man and for Cumbria and North Lancashire will be the order of £10 million per annum (at most). I have a suggestion for some savings- in the era of Netflix and Love-Film: Why can’t the BBC shut down between midnight and like it used to- what purpose today to broadcast trashy American soaps, talk-shows or Westerns at Night Owls can find plenty of other media to watch these things. Meanwhile the BBC can focus resources on providing high quality and relevant, factual news for all viewers (including those in Cumbria!) as per its Charter.

Published by northwestisnorthwest

My name is Ian Pennell and I am a freelance Book-keeper: I live near Alston, in the North Pennines in north-east Cumbria. I have friends who live in northern North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 17 years ago) and in other parts of Cumbria. I have two Website Campaigns that seek to promote more localised Regional TV coverage for large rural areas across the North of North West England and North East England. . A big problem is that the Regional Television Bulletins for the North West covers the southern third of the Region about 90% (plus a part of Derbyshire which is NOT the North West of England), covers the middle third of North West England poorly and covers the northern third of North West England not at all! When I was studying at Lancaster University, I used to watch BBC1 North West Tonight because it covered areas up around where I was brought up- in northern Cumbria as well as more immediately locally around Lancaster. Then I came home one day, turned on BBC1 North West Tonight wondering why they were silent on Cumbria and discovered why: Most of Cumbria had been chopped off the weather-map! . People living in the westernmost part of North West England (around St. Bees Head) have local BBC news on their televisions which is 90% about North East England! In rural and northern Northumberland too, Regional TV, as is received by viewers, tends too often to be Tyneside/ Wearside/ Teesside- focussed with little news locally. Communities in North Northumberland have strong links across the Border into south-east Scotland and towards Edinburgh but none of the Regional TV News- services serving Northumberland today ever goes across the Scottish Border for significant happenings of interest to North Northumbrians. I have also done walking in the area, including around the Cheviots in the past- and the Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ East and Mid Lothian area is vast- but it is largely overlooked by mainstream Regional TV! . North Yorkshire, the largest county in England also falls in the gaps between coverage from BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV1 News Tyne Tees in the north of the county, and the Leeds-based BBC1 and ITV1 Regional TV- services in the south of the county: North Yorkshire is a huge, yet beautiful county, which I have visited and explored in the past, yet is poorly covered in Regional TV. . Based near Alston, near the Cumbria/ Northumberland boundary I am well-placed to discuss Regional TV in all these large rural areas, in which collectively some two million folk live, yet they are poorly covered by the Regional TV News- services set up to serve them. These huge areas are an hour to two hours' drive from where I live: North Lancashire and South/ West Cumbria are to the south-west, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and Lothian are to the north and north-east, and North Yorkshire is to the south-east of my home near Alston. I am well-placed to draw attention to deficiencies in Regional TV coverage for folk in all these areas. The North Pennines, where I live, is arguably another large area that touches on the other three where Regional TV coverage falls through the gaps completely (and that is despite the North Pennines running north to south down the middle of the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria Region). . In two websites, one for northern North West England and the Isle of Man (a country in it's own right that does not have it's own TV service!), and another Website focussing on Northumberland, North Yorkshire and the North Pennines I make the point that Regional TV that informs viewers of important things in their local area is a Public Service, funding for which should be given a higher priority (and if necessary via statute through the BBC's Charter), than funding for Soaps, Films or Sport- which are for leisure. I also give viewers the tools to fight effectively for better- and more geographic-appropriate Regional TV where they live- and to seek it through alternative (often little-known) local TV services, some of which may only be available on the Internet.

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