West Cumbria is very much in North West England and this area should Never get North East England Regional TV News.

24th April 2022

Dear Readers

Viewers of Regional Television in places like Keswick, Maryport, Workington and St. Bees Head get their BBC1 Regional news from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and they can watch BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria), at least eighty percent of which is about Tyneside, Teesside, Wearside, County Durham, or North Yorkshire. All of these areas are over two hours’ drive from West Cumbria, are across the other side of the North Pennines and are adjacent to the North Sea.  West Cumbria (or West Cumberland, as it soon will be) borders the Irish Sea and it is, by any definition, in North West England.

Alas, locals would be happy to point out that West Cumbrians can easily switch over to watch ITV1 News Border to watch Lookaround, which is something I would strongly encourage folk to do if they live in West Cumbria and want a more localised Cumbria-southwest Scotland news-service. However, this rather misses a significant point, and it is that the entire area is in North West England and wider Regional links are more likely to be with other parts of the North West of England than Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Teesside. The Cumbrian Coast railway line- which runs through Maryport, Workington and Whitehaven, has its terminus with Carlisle in the north and Lancaster in the south- and in fact a number of trains on the Cumbrian Coast railway line continue on to Manchester Airport. The bus service which links Whitehaven and Workington with Keswick stops at Penrith Railway Station which is on the West Coast Main Line and there is also a regular week-day bus service that connects Keswick with Lancaster.

None of this is to minimise the fact that folk who live in northern Cumbria would, if they had to travel to a big city for any reason, would travel to Newcastle-upon-Tyne rather than Manchester. This would be true for folk needing emergency hospital treatment: Indeed, in some instances folk living in North Cumbria might travel to Glasgow or Edinburgh- possibly to catch a flight to go on holiday. However, for communities well west of Carlisle and the M6, or south of Penrith, nothing that happens in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Middlesbrough, Sunderland or Northallerton (over two hours’ drive and, in some cases, over 100 miles away)  is local or directly relevant to those communities. The BBC1 Regional News that is the default for the northern Lake District and West Cumbria- with over eighty percent news about towns and cities close to the North East coast is quite inappropriate.

However, the worst that the BBC could do is just put all of West Cumbria and the northern Lakes into the BBC1 North West Region. The BBC tried that way back in 1986, and it was so unpopular with North and West Cumbrian viewers that they had to reverse this decision five years later! I covered the deeply- hostile reception of North Cumbrians to the idea of Regional News- coverage coming from Manchester here: https://northwestisnorthwest.org/2021/07/11/thirty-years-ago-people-power-changed-regional-tv-in-northern-cumbria-and-it-can-in-northern-lancashire-too/. However, it is right that West Cumbria, indeed anywhere west of Carlisle, gets North West Regional TV news but it has to be news that is local to the communities it serves.

The entire area of North West England north of Preston right up to the Scottish Border does not get geographic- appropriate Regional news off the BBC and neither does the Isle of Man. Northern Lancastrians do get some news about Lancashire (about 20% coverage) from BBC1 North West Tonight, though its mostly Preston, Blackburn, and central south Lancashire. South Cumbrians will get one news story about the Lake District in about half the bulletins, but when most (i.e., 70%) of the coverage is from south of Preston it is hardly geographic- appropriate Regional News for some-one living in, say, Ulverston or Sedbergh: For many folk living in these areas, the only real alternative is to switch over to ITV1 Granada Reports which has even less coverage getting north of Preston.

The Isle of Man has a choice between BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports: On most nights neither of these Regional TV News- services provide any significant coverage- of what is a separate country in the middle of the Irish Sea some eighty or more miles from the North West English Coast! This is something that really needs addressing because the clamour for the Isle of Man to have its own viable TV station is growing for precisely this reason.

If the BBC was smart, it would realise that the geographical appropriateness of it’s Regional News service is sorely lacking for this huge geographical area stretching north from Preston right up to the Scottish Border and across the Isle of Man too. It would take steps to set up a new BBC North West and Isle of Man Regional News service because over one million folk living in this large area would greatly value better and more geographic-appropriate local news-coverage. It would be in keeping with the BBC Charter, which stipulates that it must provide good-quality, geographically- relevant local news for viewers in all parts of the United Kingdom. If the BBC does this and provides more localised Regional News-services for other parts of the UK that are not well-covered by BBC Regional News- like North East Scotland, Northern Scotland and the Islands, and North Wales the BBC will be in a much stronger position to argue for the continuance of the TV License Fee. Thus, despite the £10 to 20 million additional annual cost of a few extra BBC1 Regions in places that need it the BBC could end up better off.

Let’s face it, if the Conservative Government does not see the BBC providing better-and unique- high-quality local and Regional news; if the Government concludes that what the BBC provides could be provided by a private Television Company they are much more likely to argue for- and push through- an end to the BBC’s unique funding arrangements!

So how could the BBC improve Regional TV for West Cumbria- and improve Regional News coverage for the entirety of North West England north of Preston, and the Isle of Man? There are two ways they could do this:

  1. Firstly, the BBC could create an entirely new BBC1 North West Region to cover West and South Cumbria, including all the Lake District and all of Lancashire north of the River Ribble. Northern Cumbrians could get a choice of switching over to it too. The new BBC Region would also cover the Isle of Man and guarantee 20% of all coverage for the island. The coverage would major on Cumbria and northern Lancashire, but there would be about 10% coverage of a wider area extending south to Manchester and Liverpool but also northwards across southern Scotland and eastwards to a line running from Newcastle-upon-Tyne down to Harrogate: Thus, all areas would then get to hear about major happenings further afield- and in the direction of their regional affiliations. However, the news would be local and relevant to viewers right across this huge area- and it would represent a huge improvement for Manx viewers. A brand-new BBC Region for northern North West England and the Isle of Man would be costly, for sure- possibly up to £10 million annually, but if the BBC cut some of the salaries for their management and decided not to air between 2.am and 5.am (for instance) it could save ££ millions annually.
  • Secondly, with no new BBC Region the BBC could provide an opt-out from BBC1 North West Tonight that would be dedicated to coverage of Cumbria, northern Lancashire, and the Isle of Man. The opt-out would air from special studios in, say, Carlisle: Cumbrian viewers of BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) could also join in this 15-minute Cumbria/ North Lancs/ Isle of Man opt-out. It should not be beyond the wit of the BBC technicians to work out the means of doing this and it would be much cheaper than setting up a brand-new BBC1 North West Region.

Viewers in North and West Cumbria would get a much more North West flavoured news-service without being subject to news about Manchester and Liverpool, but they would not get news over eighty percent about North East England with such an arrangement. Viewers in South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and on the Isle of Man would also benefit from much more geographic-appropriate coverage. Of course, this would still cost money- maybe £2 million annually to maintain a studio in Carlisle, pay a couple of news-presenters and additional reporters and change/ maintain transmission signals to support this opt-out from the Caldbeck, Lancaster and Isle of Man transmitters: Alas, for that reason, the BBC is still unlikely to consider such a policy given the TV License fee- the main source of their income- has been frozen at a time of rising Inflation!

The unwillingness on the part of BBC Regional News- providers either in North West England or North East England to provide Cumbrians, Manx or North Lancastrian viewers with a Regional News service that would serve those areas properly, or even to invest significant resources into improving coverage for those areas, leaves a lot to be desired. Which is why it is vital that if you live in West Cumbria and you are unhappy at getting news mainly about Tyneside or Teesside that you complain directly to Regional News programmers about this. To write to BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) email: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk.

If your views aren’t taken seriously by BBC1 Look North programmers, then write to your local MP, the details of which will depend on where you live:

Penrith and the Border: The Right Hon Dr. Neil Hudson, MP. Email: neil.hudson.mp@parliament.uk.

Workington Constituency: The Right Hon. Sir Mark Jenkinson, MP. Email: mark.jenkinson.mp@parliament.uk.

Copeland: The Right Hon. Lady Trudy Harrison, MP.  Email: trudy.harrison.mp@parliament.uk.

Make clear that the BBC Regional News service for your area has refused all suggestions for making improvements so that the Regional News is more geographically- relevant to your community. You can C.c. your letter to your local MP with the email for BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria): Point out that in future you are minded to just watch ITV1 News Border’s Lookaround, which provides very good coverage of Cumbria- along with some coverage of south-west Scotland which is more local than Teesside or Sunderland! Get your friends to do the same. It looks like it will take the BBC being threatened with a serious loss of viewers to get it to change course, but the effort would be worth it. If you live in Whitehaven or Keswick, an environmental scheme that benefits Lake District farmers would be of much more local relevance to you than a road smash on the A19 near Northallerton, an extra railway service between Whitehaven and Barrow is likely to generate more interest than the A1 in Northumberland being upgraded to motorway: Being informed of local happenings- which can have a direct bearing on your local community is important, so geographically-appropriate Regional and local TV news really is worth fighting for!                             

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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