29th April 2022
It cannot be said that viewers in Lancashire are not reasonably well-served by news-coverage about Lancashire on BBC1 North West Tonight. This evening, 29th April 2022, BBC1 North West Tonight provided not just one, not just two but four news-features concerning northern Lancashire. There was coverage of the proposed Eden Project North near Morecambe, coverage of a Lancaster man campaigning for improved safety for cyclists after his father was almost killed by a lorry, there was coverage of the police search for a now- suspected murdered woman’s body in the Bowland Fells and the end of this Regional News- programme showed pictures of scarecrows at Wray festival in rural North Lancashire.
So a viewer in, say, Fleetwood or Garstang would have plenty of news about happenings within just a 25-mile radius, certainly what might be considered Immediate Local news. It is certainly better than North Lancastrian viewers would get from ITV1 Granada Reports, a programme which, consistently, has little coverage north of Preston. On the strength of that alone I would recommend that any one living north of Wigan would be better tuning in to BBC1 North West Tonight for geographic- appropriate local and Regional News-coverage.
However, what North Lancastrians expect in a good localised Regional News service is a degree of coverage of areas just north of Preston like this every night, which not even BBC1 North West Tonight delivers consistently. Also, viewers here would expect some wider North West Regional news-coverage, that is of locations a bit further afield but within an hour’s travel time. There is plenty of coverage of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and South Lancashire, which folk living south of Lancaster will have some interest in, neither BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports disappoint with regards to Manchester/ Liverpool news! However anywhere north of Preston is within an hours’ travel time of much of Cumbria- Penrith is just 59 miles and just one hours’ drive up the A6 and M6 from Garstang- and the Lake District with its lovely scenery is more of a draw (and interest) than a big city like Manchester for a lot of Lancastrian folk. In the very north of Lancashire, viewers in towns like Carnforth or Bolton-le-Sands find South Cumbrian news much more local than news about Preston or Blackburn, and Carlisle in North Cumbria is more local to viewers there than just about anywhere in Greater Manchester.
To that end, the ideal for Regional News for somewhere like Garstang or Morecambe would be a North West Regional News service that not only covers northern Lancashire better but one which also covers Cumbria as well as some important news- items from Manchester, Liverpool and South Lancashire. Also, the issues that pertain to people living in Cumbria will be much more like those affecting rural northern Lancashire communities than the metropolitan concerns in Manchester or Liverpool. Furthermore, what is a good North West Regional News-service for viewers in Morecambe or Carnforth will be very different for viewers in central Manchester or Warrington: Just one large BBC Region covering an area with seven million inhabitants stretching from the central Lake District down to Malpas and Whitchurch, on the Cheshire/ Shropshire border is too large to serve such a huge area adequately.
Now BBC1 North West Tonight does cover Cumbria in news-output, occasionally there will be two or even three news-items about Cumbria in the main evening bulletins. The programme, the transmission area of which extends a bit further north than that of ITV1 Granada Reports certainly covers Cumbria better than its mainstream North West rival: ITV1 Granada Reports covers Cumbria about once in a blue moon! However, the reluctance of broadcasters to cover anything significantly north of the transmission area means that major happenings in places like Appleby, Penrith or Keswick, well within an hour’s travel time of North Lancashire are often missed altogether- on both mainstream North West Regioal News services. This is not at all satisfactory for viewers who live between Kendal and Preston who are just a bit too far south to switch over to ITV1 News Border’s Lookaround (with it’s excellent coverage of Cumbria) on their televisions.
BBC1 North West Tonight‘s coverage of happenings north of Preston has, on balance, improved slightly over the last few years: Lancastrians can expect, on a typical night, to get some two to three news-items about their county and, if one considers Wigan, Bolton and Rochdale to be in Lancashire (as they were prior to 1974) one can state that three to four news-items cover Lancashire on a typical night. In addition Cumbria- typically just South Cumbria (though occasionally a bit further north into Cumbria too)- will get a news-feature on most nights, though periods lasting a week or more can be completely devoid of Cumbrian news on BBC1 North West Tonight. It used to be the case that at least 70% of coverage failed to get north of the M62 Corridor night after night (like it is with ITV1 Granada Reports now), so there has been some improvement.
However, this is still nothing like good enough for a viewer in, say, Carnforth whose ideal North West Regional News- service would be Manchester/ Liverpool up to the Scottish Border. It is also poor for viewers on the Isle of Man, a small country in its own right in the middle of the Irish Sea, who get “local news” that is 95% about another country. There is still room for improvement and, as one cannot really expect BBC1 North West Tonight to devote extra air-time for Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man at the expense of over five million folk who live in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire and when viewers in those areas also want local news!
Thus, there is still a real need for Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man to have its own BBC1 North West Region or, at least, a 15-minute opt-out from the main BBC1 North West Tonight bulletin with a provision of more bespoke localised news in the opt-out, whilst viewers in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City region receive more localised coverage of the south of the region from the main programme. Viewers in northern Cumbria who receive BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria version) could be switched to this 15-minute Lancashire/ Cumbria and Isle of Man opt-out so that they get more news about their own county with a more North West flavoured bulletin than just getting 80% plus coverage of North East England. An opt-out with a single news-reader in a studio in Carlisle will not cost more than £2 million a year and, if shared between two BBC regions like this would not be an insurmountable cost. But in terms of transforming BBC Regional news for all of Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man so that two million viewers receive much more geographic-appropriate news, it would be transformational.
Since the BBC is unlikely to do anything for its Regional News services that involves spending more money, however it is going to be up to you, the viewers, to write in and complain. Start by emailing BBC1 North West Tonight at: email@example.com. Get your friends to write in demanding more local news-coverage, and to explain that North West England does not stop at Kendal but continues up to the Scottish Border. If that does not yield results, and it likely won’t, you can write to your local MP at:
House of Commons, Westminster, LONDON. SW1A 0AA.
Enough people writing to their local MP about Regional Television in a community will- eventually- have an impact.