Regional Television Across Cumbria: Room for Improvement

31st October 2022

Dear Readers

Most folk living and working in Cumbria will assuredyl be familiar with ITV1 Border’s Regional TV News- service and it’s flagship early- evening news-bulletin Lookaround., currently presented by Amy Lea and Ian Payne (who, incidentally, are also the anchors for ITV1 News Tyne Tees which is the ITV Regional News for North East England including most of North Yorkshire). ITV1 Border’s Lookaround does cover Cumbria extremely well, as would be attested by those in Cumbria who watch it. Consistently over 50% of news-coverage is about the county. For folk living in the very north of Cumbria (an area that will soon be considered to be north-east Cumberland, as it was fifty years ago), the fact that there is also some news-coverage of happens across the Scottish Border into Dumfries and Galloway compliments news-coverage for that area, since it means locals are informed of significant happenings just to the north of where they live as well as locally to the south: That is a definition of good all-round local news-coverage.

VIEW FROM A66 NEAR PENRITH, A PART OF CUMBRIA THAT IS MODESTLY REPRESENTED BY ITV BORDER’S LOOKAROUND, BUT POORLY REPRESENTED BY BBC1 LOOK NORTH (NE/ CUMBRIA), A PROGRAMME THAT HAS 85% COVERAGE OF THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND. PHOTO TAKEN BY IAN PENNELL IN SEPTEMBER 2022.

Unfortunately, not all of Cumbria has ITV1 Border’s Lookaround as their default ITV1 Regional News, and BBC1 Regional News is not geographically- appropriate or local for any of the parts of Cumbria served by it. Much of South Cumbria, that is coastal southern parts of what will soon be known as the county of Westmorland and Furness, receives ITV1 Granada Reports, which scarcely ever reports anything happening in the county (some 80% of coverage is Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City area, or Cheshire, which is two hour’s drive from most of these areas): The only real alternative, which viewers across all of South Cumbria receive, is BBC1 North West Tonight. This programme is also heavily Manchester/ Liverpool- centric though Lancashire is covered better and there will be a news- feature about Cumbria from time to time. The parts of South Cumbria that have a choice between ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight include Kirkby Lonsdale, Grange-over-Sands, Ulverston, Barrow-in-Furness and Millom. For all these places, some with significant populations, neither of the mainstream ITV1 and BBC1 Regional News- services is close to being geographic-appropriate.

In the North and West of Cumbria viewers would be advised to stick with ITV1 Border Lookaround for good local news-coverage, unless they live in Carlisle or just east of the city where folk have stronger links to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Tyne Valley, which is not more than an hour away by car or on the train. That’s because all of North and West Cumbria get BBC1 Look North (the North East/ Cumbria version) transmitted from Newcastle. Some 80 to 85% of the coverage is about Tyneside, Teesside, County Durham, Northumberland or North Yorkshire, less than 20% is news about Cumbria.

Viewers in North Cumbria receive BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) by choice because the alternative that they were presented with in the late 1980’s, that is BBC1 North West Tonight was even worse for them: Even though Carlisle and surrounding areas of North Cumbria are in North West England viewers (understandably) rejected having a news-service whereby most of the news-coverage was about Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire, 80% of coverage was from south of Preston! A Regional News-service mainly about places over two hours drive and 120 miles to the south of them was offensive to the good folk of Carlisle. If folk there go and do major Christmas shopping or go to the airport they tend to travel to Newcastle or Gateshead Metro Centre as it is considerably closer than Manchester. North Cumbrians have family and historical links with the Tyne Valley of Northumberland, Newcastle, Teesdale in County Durham as well as north into southern Scotland, so it is not really surprising that they forcefully rejected the BBC’s imposition of Regional TV from Manchester!

However, whilst North Cumbrians have links with southern Scotland and eastwards towards Newcastle, this is still part of North West England. Places like Hartlepool, Peterlee, Middlesbrough and Scarborough- which feature heavily in BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria) are also two or more hours’ drive from Workington or Aspatria, or indeed anywhere west of the M6. Cumbrians also have links with Lancashire, for instance a number regularly travel to Blackpool for short weekend breaks in the summer. Northern Cumbrians want a Regional TV News- service that covers, primarily the Carlisle and North Lakes area but with some wider coverage of major happenings across southern Scotland, east as far as a line from Newcastle to Darlington and southwards across South Cumbria and northern Lancashire as far south as Preston. That would be the ideal and since ITV1 Border’s Lookaround comes closest to that ideal it is no surprise that this Regional News-programme is very popular across North and West Cumbria.

There are also some shortcomings to ITV1 Border’s Lookaround that might not be obvious to a viewer in (say) Maryport or Workington, but which are clearer for those who live a bit further south and nearer to the M6. Certainly, there is no other mainstream Regional TV News- service that comes close to providing over 50% coverage of Cumbria and the coverage of southern Scotland and parts of westernmost Northumberland provides news of interest to North Cumbrians within an hour’s travel time of the reported news, i.e., Carlisle and north-east Cumbria. However ITV Border’s Lookaround does not do overlap coverage up to an hour’s travel time south and east for the benefit of their viewers at the southern and eastern margins of the ITV1 Border transmission area, for if Lookaround did it would cover major happenings as far east as Gateshead or Darlington- and as far south as Wigan or Bolton for the benefit of Kendal viewers.

Occasionally, it must be said, ITV1 Border’s Lookaround does touch on Lancashire, as it did recently to warn South Cumbrians about rising Covid-19 cases in hospitals in Lancashire and South Cumbria, and in the summer ITV Border reported on a fatal light helicopter crash close to the Lancashire- North Yorkshire border at the western end of the Yorkshire Dales: However programmers don’t extend coverage more than a few miles south and east of the transmission areas- if at all (except for coverage of all parts of South Cumbria that get ITV1 Granada Reports which they do).

The ideal for North Cumbrians for Regional TV News would be 80% of coverage within 30 minutes travel time (or 25 miles), whichever is the greatest distance, with the remaining 20% being an outer ring area extending from 30 minutes’ travel time up to an hour’s travel time (or 50 miles) away, whichever is the greater distance. This describes a “Localness Onion”, with an inner zone up to 30 minutes travel time (or 25 miles), whichever is the greater distance in which news is “Immediate Local” to a community. Happenings in the outer zone up to an hour’s travel time (or 50 miles away), whichever is the greater distance contains news that is “Regionally Local” to a community. Beyond an hour’s travel time away the news is no more relevant to a community than the national news as it is not local at all. The outer zone from 30 minutes to an hour’s travel time covers places the community might visit on a nice day out, travel to visit friends for a day several times a year, do a major shop in a city, etc. News programming from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround comes closest to this ideal for folk living in northern Cumbria, but the Regional TV News is still spread over quite a wide area so no-one in North Cumbria gets anything like 80% coverage within 30 minutes’ drive of their home (it’s typically about 40 to 50% for the Carlisle area).

This outer “Regionally Local” zone contains rather more than 20% of news-coverage with ITV1 Border’s Lookaround, but it is a C- shape close to the Cumbria- Northumberland border an an “Ո”- shape in South Cumbria because the Tyne Valley towards Newcastle, and Lancashire respectively are not covered in news- output.

The upper Eden Valley and North Pennines areas of East Cumbria also experiences some short-coming in news from ITV1 Border Lookaround: Most of the news- coverage focusses on Carlisle, West Cumbria, the Lakes and the Dumfriesshire area, so folk in places like Brough and Kirkby Stephen will often find no more than 20% of coverage gets within an hour’s drive of their homes.

The Alston area of the North Pennines, in the extreme north-east of Cumbria is another (small) part of Cumbria that does not get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround, but gets ITV1 News Tyne Tees from Gateshead as the area’s default ITV Regional News instead. The area has stronger links with the North East because towns like Hexham (Northumberland) or Barnard Castle (Co. Durham) are less than 30 miles away, but when the only other alternative is BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria) it means viewers have a choice of “North East News” or “North East News plus a bit of Cumbria”. Newcastle-upon-Tyne is an hour’s drive away from Alston and the other big cities of the North East (Durham excepted) fall outside the 50-mile limit that could even be considered “Regionally Local”. ITV1 Border’s Lookaround should be easily available across Alston Moor, and the programme should (ideally) cover the East Cumbrian Pennines in news- output better than it does. Don’t get me wrong: ITV1 Border’s Lookaround is excellent for Cumbrians in general, no other TV Region comes close in terms of local coverage, but even Lookaround does not cover well some of the very rural areas in the east of the county. Viewers of ITV1 Border’s Lookaround in the east of Cumbria do not benefit from overlap into County Durham or North Yorkshire that would provide better all-round local news-coverage.

Most of the North Pennines, as defined by a 30 mile-wide band extending south to the north-western Yorkshire Dales and bounded to the east by a line from Corbridge south to Bedale (North Yorkshire) and bounded to the west by a line running from Brampton south to Sedbergh, and with the northern and southern boundary marked by the A69 and A684 respectively, is actually home to over 100,000 people. It includes south-west rural Northumberland, Teesdale, Weardale and the Consett area in western rural County Durham, upper Swaledale and upper Wensleydale in North Yorkshire as well as Alston Moor, the upper Eden Valley and the area just east of Brampton in north-east Cumbria. It is far from an insignificant area with a very small population and yet Regional TV does not cover it well, no matter what Regional TV news-service is watched.

The North Pennines is a sub-region in its own right, with rural concerns and it is a sizeable western hinterland to the English North East, to which much of this this large rural area has more affiliation than to Carlisle or other major towns and cities in North West England. It has a very different climate than the surrounding lowlands with mean tempertures 2 to 3˚C colder than the surrounding lowlands for the inhabited areas: Even with global warming, snow-cover in excess of forty days a year has been observed more than years with less than that at any time during the last twenty years around the higher outlying farms above Nenthead, on Alston Moor: Forty days of snow-cover would only be observed in a winter of utmost severity on the outskirts of Carlisle, and you would need to go back to the 1980’s to find a winter with so many snow-cover days around Carlisle! How often does the weather in this large upland area of the North Pennines get covered in Regional weather-forecasts?

On the whole, rural northern North Yorkshire and western County Durham would be better-served by BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) but with that Regional News- service being required to cover its rural hinterlands better. The Cumbrian side of the North Pennines would benefit from ITV1 Border Lookaround covering eastern Cumbria well- with some of the extremely good coverage of Carlisle and the Lakes allocated to the Eden Valley and North Pennines,- along with some overlap into western County Durham and northern North Yorkshire.

Sadly, any significant changes to Regional TV News- services only really happen after whole local communities come together to complain on a major scale, involving local MPs. Folk living in Carlisle and the surrounding areas of North Cumbria had to really fight and protest in their thousands to get the BBC to return their area to the BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria) transmission area, after the BBC put North Cumbria in the BBC North West transmission region in the late 1980’s. If viewers who live in Aspatria, Workington or Keswick are unhappy with BBC1 Regional TV that’s mainly about urban North East England they should club together and complain, then tell the producers of BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria) that unless much more geographic- appropriate Regional TV is provided that they will switch to ITV1 Border’s Lookaround. Likewise, folk living near Alston, in north-east Cumbria can put pressure on BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) to cover the North Pennines much better- and watch ITV1 Border Lookaround on the ITV1 Border Website (available two hours after airing online here: https://www.itv.com/news/border)- in order to get more appropriate rural Cumbrian news rather than news about Tyneside, Sunderland and Teesside from ITV1 News Tyne Tees. Since Amy Lea and Ian Payne front both ITV1 Border Lookaround and ITV1 News Tyne Tees one can drop them an email at amyandian@itv.com to suggest the North Pennines be a better-coveered overlap zone between the two ITV1 Regional TV News- services!

Viewers in North and West Cumbria can also get That’s TV Cumbria & Border if they have Freeview (Channel 8 at 6.pm on week-nights- website here: http://www.thats.tv/cumbria/). This is ten minutes of bespoke coverage of Cumbria and nowhere else, but it is not as easy to get over a wide area as ITV1 Border Lookaround. This is a pity because if it was readily available to South Cumbrians it would provide a real alternative for much more localised news in those areas that have a mainstream Regional TV choice of just ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight, both of which cover South Cumbria little or not at all respectively. With news just about Cumbria, and not with south-west Scotland news too, That’s TV Cumbria & Border would be more geographic-appropriate to South Cumbrians. It certainly seems that communities in South Cumbria that can only readily get ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight on television very much get the thin end of the wedge in terms of getting geographic- appropriate local and Regional News-coverage. Those parts of South Cumbria where ITV1 Granada is their default ITV1 Region get some of the most irrelevant, non-local Regional TV News of any part of mainland Britain!

The only real solution for South Cumbria is the setting-up of a new BBC1 Region that covers West and South Cumbria, the Isle of Man and Lancashire- no where else. This could still be called BBC1 North West Tonight, and it would provide a North West Regional TV News- service that would be much more geographic- appropriate than what those areas get today. One does, of course, have to be very careful with North Cumbria given the areas closer affiliation with western Northumberland and as far east as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as well as just over the Scottish Border, but they are certainly not best served by BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) with its over eighty percent coverage of North East England.

Both North and West Cumbria could be included in a new BBC1 North West Region (covering just Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man) provided it provides 10% overlap coverage to southern Scotland and east into Northumberland and western County Durham within a North Cumbria- specific opt-out from the main news. This news- programme would provide another 10% overlap coverage east into the Yorkshire Dales and south as far as Manchester/ Liverpool for the benefit of viewers further south. However, BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) should still be made available to viewers in North Cumbria to avoid the out-cry, such as occurred in 1986, when North Cumbria was switched from BBC Look North (from Newcastle) to BBC North West Tonight (from Manchester)! No viewers should experience being wrenched away from a Regional TV news-service that they may well have grown up with and grown to love.

Viewers of the new BBC1 North West Tonight in North and West Cumbria would need an opt-out from the new BBC1 North West Tonight with bespoke Cumbrian news provided if viewers there are to take to it: For folk who live in places like Silloth and Maryport, local means Carlisle and the North Lakes, and possibly also the area around Annan and Langholm just over the Scottish Border, it does not mean Lancashire or even most of South Cumbria. So unless these areas get Regional TV that is at least 25 to 30% about northern Cumbria (or what will soon be Cumberland and North Westmorland), viewers in such places are unlikely to take to any new Regional TV News- service!

The Isle of Man would also, ideally, get an opt-out from the new BBC1 North West Tonight so that folk there get news about their own small country- separated as it is from the British mainland by a ferry trip of at least three hours’ duration.

For South Cumbrians and North Lancastrians the attachment to BBC1 North West Tonight (which produces less local news than BBC1 Look North provides to North Cumbrians) could be managed with a transition period of a year (during which the two versions of BBC1 North West Tonight would be available): Given the replacement would be a massively-better Regional TV News-service in terms of local coverage viewers would quickly switch. For Central and South Lancashire, the phase-in will need to be more gradual (over three or four years) with the traditional Salford-based version of BBC1 North West Tonight maintained along-side the introduction of the Cumbria-Lancs-IOM version of BBC1 North West Tonight. Viewers don’t like being wrenched away from Regional TV- presenters they may have grown to like, even if the change is to better local news-coverage. This was another reason North Cumbrians were in uproar at losing BBC Look North from Newcastle in 1986- thousands of North Cumbrians had grown up with (and had grown to love) the main presenter of BBC1 Look North , Mike Neville, who had fronted the Newcastle-based BBC Look North for twenty years by 1986.

Cumbria is a large county, 106 miles by road north-to-south from the Bewcastle fells along the Scottish Border to Walney Island, near Barrow-in-Furness and it is 76 miles by road west-to-east from St. Bees Head to Stainmore, close to the Cumbria-County Durham boundary in the North Pennines: Forcing one brand TV Region on such a huge area with differing Local and Regional affiliations all at once would invite trouble, but nowhere in Cumbria can viewers be said to be served at all adequately by BBC1 Regional TV today! For much of South Cumbria and a small part of north-east Cumbria viewers are also failed- massively- by their default ITV1 Regional TV too. The break-up of Cumbria back into Cumberland and Westmorland from April 2023 (albeit with somewhat different boundaries than pre-1974) may mean smaller counties that can be catered for better, but Cumberland will extend very little into the ITV1 Granada and BBC1 North West areas as exists. That means- effectively- a lower population county (Westmorland and Furness) in the north of the transmission areas so that BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports cover what is now Cumbria even less than today. This just strengthens the case for the entire northern two-thirds of the English North West and the Isle of Man being in an enirely new BBC1 North West TV Region.

Of course, all this would cost money, and that is why neither the BBC nor ITV.Plc would spend more money on Regional TV by choice, leeast of all with Britain faced with recession with the main TV broadcasters feeling the pinch! This is why the Government needs to step in with legislation requiring the BBC to devote at least £200 million annually to Regional TV, with the creation of several new BBC Regions, one of which would be the new BBC1 North West for Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man- complete with opt-outs for North Cumbria and the Isle of Man. One of the foundations for the BBC getting TV Licence-fee money is that the BBC provides high-quality news and documentaries relevant to all viewers in all parts of the UK: It is not to provide Soap Operas, Sports coverage and Westerns that are widely available, in 2022, on commercial TV channels. This needs to be underpinned and strengthened further by law, otherwise the clamour for the BBC to lose Public funding (with Regional TV becoming an inevitable casualty) will continue to grow until politicians bow to pressure- and the TV Licence is scrapped!

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: