LANCASTER CASTLE: FROM LANCASTER NORTHERN CUMBRIA IS QUICKER TO GET TO AND MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN THE BIG CITIES OF MANCHESTER AND LIVERPOOL. THIS CALLS INTO QUESTION WHETHER NORTH WEST REGIONAL NEWS SERVICES ARE LOCALLY APPROPRIATE. Courtesy of Northern_Punkie (Pixabay)
22nd May 2021
The ITV and BBC Regions approaching those that exist today were first put together in the 1960’s: That is, the recognisable TV Regions of today started before many of today’s motorways were built, before high-speed electrified trains and (certainly) before the abolition of Corporal Punishment in schools- followed by less money for the Police and soft sentences for repeat offenders helped to contribute towards inner cities being places with violent crime- that millions of folk seek to avoid. The ITV and BBC Regions came into being long before the Internet- with Amazon Prime and online shopping- enables many folk to get what they require whilst avoiding the big cities altogether.
This certainly applies to communities across northern Lancashire and in South Cumbria where, as a consequence of being stuck with BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports both producing Manchester/ Liverpool-heavy news-coverage, they receive Regional news- programming that no longer covers places they wish to go to, let alone providing much in the way of coverage of their own communities. Unlike in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there are almost no circumstances whereby people living in, say, Lancaster or Morecambe absolutely have to travel to Manchester or Liverpool- except if they have family members living there. Just about everything- even quite specialist goods- can be purchased over the Internet and, if people wish to do a spot of proper retail therapy they can find other nicer, less crowded places in which to go shopping closer at hand. Even travelling abroad- and flying from an airport- does not necessarily mean Manchester Airport since Blackpool Airport (which is closer) does offer a range of popular holiday destinations too.
For people who live in northern Lancashire or South Cumbria, many of whom in the latter area are still forced to choose between ITV1 Granada Reports or BBC North West Tonight it is right to consider in fact whether they are in the right Television Region- or whether the BBC or ITV.Plc need to arrange for people living in the northern North West of England to have their own Regional News service. Faster rail and motorway infrastructure northwards combined with the fact that the city of Carlisle and towns in Cumbria have stronger appeal to folk living in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire throws into question the assumed geographical affiliation of one million inhabitants who live in South Cumbria and the northern half of Lancashire: Received wisdom is that folk in these areas travel south to Manchester and Liverpool to go shopping, to attend pop-concerts, to go to football matches and travel through these cities whenever they go abroad. It might have been (partly) so prior to the Year 2000, but that is not the case in 2021!
Below is a list of the fastest travel-times from Heysham (fairly representative of northern Lancashire) to selected locations in places covered by ITV1 Border (England) in their flagship Regional News-Programme Lookaround. This is compared with travel- times from Heysham to principal locations in the ITV1 Granada Region- and the places are fairly representative across the coverage both in ITV Border (England) and in ITV1 Granada. Heysham is in North Lancashire, just southwards along the coast from Morecambe and roughly parallel in northern latitude with Lancaster- and the whole Lancaster district together- has a population of just over 144,000 (as of 2018). What is striking- looking at the distances and travel times to the principal places covered by ITV1 Border (England) and ITV1 Granada is that, despite ITV1 Border covering southern Scotland in output, in the round travel times from Heysham are (overall) just over 15 minutes’ greater to the ITV Border destinations than the principal ITV1 Granada destinations. If one further considers that ITV Border (England) covers Cumbria extremely well then the travel times from Heysham to the principal Cumbrian destinations is almost five minutes less than the average for the principal ITV1 Granada destinations.
However, this is not all. From Heysham only Blackburn (fairly geographically representative of the northern one-sixth of coverage that ITV Granada Reports produces) is within an hours’ drive but both Manchester and Liverpool are over an hour’s drive away. For ITV1 Border (England) Lookaround programming both Barrow in Furness and Kendal are listed – indicating a third of coverage for south and south-west Cumbria and the central Lake District- and this is about what is observed from watching the programme regularly. Both Barrow and Kendal can be reached in an hour or less from Heysham. An hour’s travel time is at the limit of what is considered “local” to most folk and it is illuminating that it takes as long to reach central Liverpool as it does to Carlisle from Heysham- which indicates that much of northern Cumbria is local to northern Lancashire too. The travel times from Heysham to the selected ITV Border (England) and ITV1 Granada destinations are listed here:
FASTEST TRAVEL TIMES (BY CAR) FROM HEYSHAM TO SELECTED LOCATIONS IN THE ITV1 BORDER REGION
Kendal: 29 minutes
Whitehaven: 1 hour and 38 minutes
Carlisle: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Barrow in Furness (covered in news): 1 hour exactly
Dumfries (south-west Scotland): 1 hour and 49 minutes
Galashiels (Scottish Borders): 2 hours and 25 minutes
(Mean of the six ITV1 Border (England) locations is 86 minutes travel time from Heysham, for the four Cumbrian locations only- the mean is 65.5 minutes)
FASTEST TRAVEL TIMES (BY CAR) FROM HEYSHAM TO SELECTED LOCATIONS IN ITV1 GRANADA REGION
Blackburn: 45 minutes
Manchester: 1 hour and 9 minutes
Warrington: 1 hour and 4 minutes
Liverpool: 1 hour and 14 minutes
Chester: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Stockport: 1 hour and 13 minutes
(Mean of the six ITV1 Granada locations is 69 minutes’ travel time from Heysham)
(Rome to Rio Website: https://www.rome2rio.com/)
Alas, how far particular locations are from northern Lancashire and South Cumbria are not the whole story. What also matters, in terms of Regional Programming, is how much the towns and cities covered have similarities to one’s own community, how much the issues reported affect one’s own community and- above all- whether the places covered regularly in Regional News output cover places and people close to one’s heart and- indeed- places they really need to know about. In a recent post I uncovered findings that suggest that the inhabitants of South Cumbria and North Lancashire would choose to explore the surrounding countryside or venture northwards to the beautiful Lake District rather than head south to Manchester and Liverpool- and the fact that Cumbria has day-trip numbers exceeding those of either Manchester or Liverpool underscore this point. This post can be found here: https://northwestisnorthwest.org/2021/05/18/the-geographical-affiliation-of-lancastrians-is-more-northerly-than-bbc-north-west-and-itv-granada-care-to-admit/.
Since folk living in northern North West England have much less need (and less inclination) to travel south to visit Manchester or Liverpool than they might have forty years ago, they prefer Cumbria to the urban metropolitan areas in the south of the Region and travel times to northern Cumbria and comparable with those to Manchester and Liverpool it is time for a complete re-think about the Regional Television programming that serves the area. That is particularly the case when places like Fleetwood or Heysham have more in common with Barrow-in-Furness and Workington than Manchester and Liverpool.
Ergo, there is a very strong case for moving northern Lancashire (all areas north of Preston) and those parts of South Cumbria that currently receive a main choice ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight into the ITV1 Border (England) transmission area. Even were ITV Border’s programmers to refuse to cover northern Lancashire in news- coverage (for fear of diluting Cumbrian and southern Scotland coverage) it would be arguably better for all those areas of northern North West England to receive ITV1 Border (which covers areas locally to the north very well), which would complement coverage from BBC1 North West Tonight that does cover Lancashire reasonably well and which also covers Manchester and Liverpool. Viewers would have a real choice and, of course, the South Cumbrian viewers (previously forced to choose between ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight) would be able to watch the excellent coverage across their own county from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround programme!
However, ITV1 Border did also cover the Isle of Man in the past and viewers in Cumbria and southern Scotland were fine with that (and they would get used to North Lancashire being covered if northern Lancashire is transferred into the ITV Border (England) transmission region). My view is that ITV1 Border, with the infrastructure still there for separate Scottish programming (i.e., ITV Border (Scotland)), would revive the Scottish opt-out, which used to be known as the Selkirk opt-out, in the main evening Regional News- programme, Lookaround. This would be done so that viewers in south-west Scotland and the Scottish Borders don’t have local coverage diluted by too much Cumbria/ Lancashire news. The ITV Border (England) programming would maintain some southern Scotland news-output for the benefit of viewers in northern Cumbria but would then be able to focus more on Cumbria/ northern Lancashire.
One huge benefit for viewers of Regional Television in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire currently receiving ITV1 Granada output is that- on being transferred to a TV Region- which would have a population of less than 1.5 million people (once they had joined) compared to seven million in the ITV Granada Region is that they would enjoy much more immediately local news- coverage (that is, happening within half an hour’s drive of where they live). Of course, ITV Border covers a large geographical area and Programmers will not want to dilute coverage to existing viewers, even so if South Cumbria and northern Lancashire received 30% of coverage a night on Lookaround that would be a truly massive improvement on what those viewers in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire get from ITV1 Granada Reports– and indeed more than double what they get off BBC1 North West Tonight!
If almost one million people who inhabit areas north of Preston that nonetheless currently receive ITV1 Granada programming were moved to ITV1 Border (England) the increase in the total population living in the ITV1 Border transmission area to nearly two million would help safeguard ITV1 Border from threats to its future: ITV.Plc would become as reluctant to axe its Border Region as it would to axe its Tyne Tees Region because of the advertising revenue and other income generated by a higher number of viewers- who would (in all likelihood) become much more enthusiastic about their Regional News- service than they were about ITV1 Granada Reports.
Of course, the ideal solution for viewers in South Cumbria, Lancashire, and the Isle of Man to have their own North West Regional News service. Foisting an additional area onto an adjacent Regional Television service, one that does not wish to dilute its excellent coverage for its existing viewers, is certainly relatively cost-free as far as the Television Regions are concerned in the round except for the one- off costs of tweaking transmitters, etc. However, it is certainly not the best solution. The best solution would be for OFCOM and the Government to intervene and require the BBC (because of the way it is funded) to provide a separate BBC North West Regional News- service to the Salford- based operation which would be tailored to coverage of Lancashire, Cumbria, and the Isle of Man- with viewers in northern Cumbria given the choice of watching the new service too (rather than getting most of their BBC output 85% about North East England).
The new BBC North West Tonight would cost the BBC an extra £5 million per annum, but they could find that from existing budgets by cutting middle management, not wasting ££ millions on new TV sets for East Enders and not providing BBC World Service programming in countries hostile to the UK. If the Government required the BBC to find the money to set up and run an extra BBC Region in North West England- like the Coalition Government required the BBC to cut 20% off its Annual Budget between 2010 and 2015- they would do so. It is a matter of folk who live in the affected areas writing to OFCOM and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport in sufficient numbers that officials are moved to intervene.
Viewers who live in Lancashire, Cumbria and on the Isle of Man need a North West Regional News- service that covers Lancashire, Cumbria, and the Isle of Man- roughly 35%, 35% and 20% total coverage for each county, respectively. It is not unreasonable for this entire area, which actually encompasses some two-thirds of the geographic area of North West England- plus the Isle of Man- and which is home to two million inhabitants has a Regional News- service that covers their communities, deals with their interests and concerns and speaks their language rather than viewers having to put up with Manchester/ Liverpool dominated coverage with a metropolitan slant or (in northern Cumbria having BBC “local news” that’s 85% about North East England and likewise largely irrelevant – particularly to those living west of Carlisle and the M6). Regional news- coverage for an area must be geographically- appropriate and relevant to those watching it- and that certainly is not the case across northern Lancashire, much of South Cumbria and the Isle of Man today.
That’s not to say major happenings a bit further afield should not be covered as folk would be interested in major happenings up to an hour’s travel time from their home: Thus, the remaining 10% of news- coverage for our new Regional News- service should be for the most serious event happening in an area stretching from Manchester/ Liverpool in the south to southern Scotland in the north, eastwards as far as a line running from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Bradford and westwards to include the Isle of Man: This is so that folk at the periphery of this large, mainly rural- and more geographical- part of North West England finds out about major happenings that may still be local to them but which occur beyond the transmission boundaries.
In the meantime, viewers of Regional Television across a large geographic area of North West England continue to suffer scant coverage, whilst the situations that affect their lives are also overlooked in favour of metropolitan issues- like Black Lives Matter, Gay Pride marches, etc. There is a need for a service that covers issues closer to home for many thousands of viewers in North West England like the rising Cost of Living, Employment Prospects in Coastal Towns in the North West (which you cannot do real coverage of by excluding those in Cumbria), Rural Poverty, Prospects for Fishermen in Coastal Communities and Whether Hill-Farmers Can Support Themselves. North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians are really not getting this from ITV1 Granada Reports, and although BBC North West Tonight might briefly touch on some of these relevant issues it is a long way from being a true tribune of the Manx, North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians.
Hence the need for major changes, which will probably require the direct intervention of the British Government. Maybe that will come in the light of recent revelations about the BBC’s involvement regarding Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana in 1995, two years before she tragically lost her life. There is a clamour amongst Conservative MPs for “Something Must Be Done About The BBC” – in the wake of these revelations. We will see.