24th April 2022
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:
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: email@example.com.
Workington Constituency: The Right Hon. Sir Mark Jenkinson, MP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copeland: The Right Hon. Lady Trudy Harrison, MP. Email: email@example.com.
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!