15th November 2022
During the course of this year, 2022, the BBC has set up a Regional programming series called We Are England. Unlike in the past whereby BBC Regional TV documentaries aligned with the BBC transmission Regions that received BBC1 Regional News, for the BBC1 We Are England series the whole of England, home to almost 60 million inhabitants is divided up into just six super-regions, with six groups of programmers and reporters to serve each super-region to provide “Local” documentaries. All of the BBC1 North West transmission area, which includes Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man is served by reporters and programmers based in Leeds, and the super-region that BBC North West is included in also includes Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and northern parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire! Quite apart of the issues around merging two distinct regions with completely different geographical, cultural and climatic characteristics it is over 200 miles as the crow flies from the west coast of the Isle of Man to the east coast of Lincolnshire! By ferry and by road it is a journey of at least eight hours and nearly 280 miles, you might as well just have one big all- England show and be done with it as far as folk on the Isle of Man- which is not part of England- are concerned!
Not only that, but this huge area encompassing all of North West England (except northern Cumbria), almost all of the Yorkshire and Humber English Region along with Lincolnshire, northern Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is home to nearly 15 million inhabitants. People who live in Scunthorpe have no affinity to Southport, just as folk who live in Douglas, on the Isle of Man have no affinity to Crewe or Buxton. The decision by the BBC to have big super-regions removes much of the local relevance of news provided even to the city areas (areas normally well- served by Regional TV News). You can read all about the BBC’s We Are England Regional programming plans here https://rxtvinfo.com/2022/we-are-england-to-redraw-bbc-tv-regions.
Such programming would be unpopular for viewers in Lancashire and South Cumbria. Two years ago, there was a situation whereby over on ITV1 Granada a technical glitch meant ITV1 Granada Reports could not be aired, so ITV1 Granada decided to show viewers in the North West ITV1 News Calendar from Yorkshire! Viewers were livid, instead of some vaguely local news for viewers in places like Blackpool (ITV1 Granada Reports does not serve northern Lancashire well) they got news about Leeds, York, Castleford, etc. with a nice picture of Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast facing the North Sea to round off the programme (you can read more about this sorry occasion here: https://northwestisnorthwest.org/2020/09/28/itv-granada-off-air-so-itv-leaves-north-west-viewers-with-itv-calendar-yorkshire-neither-granada-or-bbc-north-west-tonight-have-shown-cumbrian-news-for-weeks/). Viewers described the news as irrelevant to their area, about the “wrong side of the Pennines”, etc. in their discussions afterwards.
Now, there is a good argument that viewers in places like Rochdale, Burnley and just eastwards into West Yorkshire to towns like Huddersfield should be able to find out what is happening just over the transmission border, in other words that there should be an overlap zone so that folk who live in Rochdale can find out about significant happenings as far east as Leeds, some forty miles eastwards, or for folk who live in Huddersfield to get news of significant happenings in Manchester. But that is an argument for not having hard borders, for folk at the edge of transmission boundaries. The utopian ideal for local news-coverage in a place is for viewers to get 80% coverage from within a 30 minute drive (Immediate Local) but 20% coverage of happenings outside that zone (Regionally Local) but within an hour’s travel time, and with local happenings from all round the compass to one’s locale being reported on. However, whilst these super-regions may bring more all-round We Are England documentary coverage to places like Rochdale or Huddersfield they mean a serious dilution of coverage so that less news is Immediate Local, and a higher proportion of news is not local at all.
For locations nearer the eastern, western and northern ends of this vast super-region there is an even higher likelihood that what is reported on, or discussed in these documentaries is not going to be local at all! For places like Barrow-in-Furness or Millom, a very small amount of the documentary coverage is going to be about places within an hour’s drive of one’s community! There is also a loss of Regional identity in the coverage, it is no longer coverage of North West England because at least half the coverage will be about areas east of the Pennines and southwards into northern parts of the East Midlands.
The grouping of BBC Regions into bigger super-regions also portends a future in which “small- population but costly” BBC1 Regions are amalgamated with adjacent BBC TV Regions to save money. This is not scare-mongering because the BBC have already decided to do this by merging/ mothballing two BBC Regions in the southern half of the country by Christmas. The Oxford version of BBC1 South Today will go as will the Cambridge version of BBC1 Look East (an article about the BBC’s plans is here: https://rxtvinfo.com/2022/bbc-to-cut-regional-news-bulletins-in-east-south). If the recession Britain is now almost certainly in gets worse and the BBC faces further cuts to TV Licence income what other BBC1 Regional TV News- services will go? Will the super-regions provide the template for BBC Regional TV in future?
These are valid questions when the traditional BBC1 and ITV1 TV Regions are too large as they are to provide for effective local and Regional TV News-coverage for much of North West England northwards of Preston. One might consider ITV.Plc providing viable alternatives, but that is not the case, that is except for viewers who live in Manchester or on Merseyside (for which ITV1 Granada Reports is great as that provides 80% coverage of Greater Manchester and Merseyside), or in the north of Cumbria where ITV Border’s Lookaround provides excellent coverage of Cumbria – in contrast to the BBC’s Regional output from the North East! In northern Lancashire, much of South Cumbria, and on the Isle of Man viewers are stuck with ITV1 Granada Reports which serves those areas poorly.
Parts of northern North West England have not been immune from ITV1 Regional TV cuts either: ITV1 Border’s future has been seriously threatened in the past- because the transmission area is a large area that is relatively sparsely populated- following the 2008-9 recession viewers in Cumbria and south-west Scotland had to endure several years with the ITV1 “local” news being mostly about Tyneside, Teesside and parts of North Yorkshire: This was because ITV1 suffered a big fall in advertising revenue. If this ever happens again in a future recession, we can add all of Cumbria and south-west Scotland to all those large areas really poorly- served by Regional TV, both BBC and ITV, and (likely) on a more permanent basis.
As things stand, the large BBC1 super-regions for the We Are England series provide nothing that’s local for viewers except in some cities and larger towns near the centre of the proposed super-regions. These BBC super-regions are very much the thin end of the wedge because they provide a possible template for the BBC Regions for the regular Regional TV News- perhaps following a future recession! It is completely unacceptable that viewers in Lancashire should gets news about East Yorkshire, and viewers in East Yorkshire or Lincolnshire won’t want news about Merseyside or Lancashire. Although the Wars of the Roses ended almost 600 years ago, many viewers in both Lancashire (the Red Rose county) and viewers in the counties that make up Yorkshire (the White Rose county) would collectively wish that the realms of the Red Rose and the White Rose be kept separate!
These counties also form part of totally different geographical regions of England, with very different local and regional affiliations across such a wide area- 140 miles from Blackpool to Hull or almost 120 miles from Crewe to Scarborough. If folk go out for the day, in Grimsby they are likely to visit the Lincolnshire Wolds, but in Lancaster they would visit the Lake District and from Chester they would visit North Wales. If folk need to go to the airport, folk in North West England will go to Manchester or Liverpool- or Blackpool if they live in Lancashire or South Cumbria. In Yorkshire folk use Leeds Bradford Airport, and possibly even Durham Tees Valley airport if they are in any part of North Yorkshire. Yorkshire folk will use Manchester -or fly via London Heathrow- only if it’s completely unavoidable to get where they want to go!
There is also a huge variation in climate across such a vast area with the Lancashire Pennines and South Lakeland fells being amongst the wettest parts of the country. The Hull area and the area around Lincoln is one of the driest parts of Britain, although in winter on rare occasions with icy Siberian blasts these areas can be very snowy as well as very cold. The uplands of West Yorkshire and the eastern Yorkshire Dales get lots of snow with icy north-easterly winds in winter, whereas on such occasions Blackpool and the south-west coast of Cumbria are dry and clear, with night frosts, but with very little snow at such times. In the summer months, occasions with easterly winds associated with high- pressure bring hot sunny days to the North West and inland across West Yorkshire, but the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire coasts are liable to be bathed in a chilly “sea- fret” borne on a chilly breeze off the North Sea! What possessed producers at the BBC to lump places like Crewe, Ellesmere Port and Blackpool in the same documentary super-region as Scunthorpe, Scarborough and Mablethorpe?!!
Rather suprisingly, the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria TV Region, with just over 3 million inhabitants in the (albeit large) transmission area is the one BBC1 Region of England left unscathed. If anywhere deserved better to be unscathed it is the almost seven million inhabitants living in the English North West (except northern Cumbria) and living on the Isle of Man, which is quite a large populous BBC TV Region as it is.
The BBC1 Yorkshire and BBC1 East Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire Regions, were it deemed by the BBC really necessary to be amalgamated with another BBC1 Region at all (spoiler alert, it isn’t!)- would be to create a northern Super-Region- with these Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire BBC1 Regions amalgamated with BBC1 NE/ Cumbria, at least NE England is on the same side of the Pennines with similar climatic conditions along the North Sea Coast, and would provide a better all-round regional mix from north of Leeds and Hull up to County Durham. For the North West, Lancashire and South Cumbria would have retained a higher chance of being represented in the We Are England series too. Having the BBC1 Regions east of the Pennines together would also have been fairer, with the populations and areas of the Yorkshire/ North East and the North West super-regions being fairer too! This would, of course, have led to uproar from viewers in northern North East England and northern Cumbria, and can I say rightly so! BBC1 Super-Regions are, overall, disastrous for local documentaries, however you cut it!
Localised, relevant Regional TV is a vital Public service that informs viewers in communities of important happenings in and around their community so that folk can make informed decisions- about travel, job opportunities or visiting the countryside: It should be treated as such not only by the BBC and ITV, but by local and national Government when so little in the way of the proportion of resources are allocated to Regional TV (through subscription funding or the TV Licence fee) that good, effective local and regional news-coverage cannot be provided. Folk living in the North West of England and on the Isle of Man, in particular the more rural areas north of Preston, need to be wise to possible strategic moves by both BBC and ITV bosses in making Regional TV less attractive (by amalgamating TV Regions)- So that Regional TV gets less viewers- So that they can justify pulling more TV Regions in future!
Viewers are, rightly, be alarmed at the recent developments from the BBC, especially as the BBC is also merging it’s BBC Local Radio stations with neighbouring BBC Local Radio stations in evenings and at weekends (details here: https://pressgazette.co.uk/bbc-local-radio-cuts-comment/). Whilst BBC local radio lacks the same impact of Regional TV, where you can see pictures, footage, and maps of the places described, they still have a function for folk travelling to work, or the elderly listening to their favourite local DJ and getting local news in the evening. Why should listeners in Millom or Workington get lots of news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or listeners in Carnforth or Morecambe suffer coverage of the Wirral and Liverpool?
This Website will play a vital role in monitoring announcements by the BBC and ITV.Plc, all and any mooted cuts to Regional TV, whether these are cuts to sub-regional reporting offices, BBC Local Radio cuts, or proposals for super-regions for viewers for any programming (whether or not the BBC or ITV.Plc state it is only for some documentaries): Such moves will be publicised and highlighted, especially if it portends a loss of what good Regional TV exists in North West England. Both the BBC1 and ITV1 transmission regions are too big as they are, so this Website will always argue the case for reducing TV Region sizes and getting more localised Regional TV coverage- and will encourage folk to lobby the Government and both the BBC and ITV to get improved local news-coverage, espcially in the poorly-covered rural areas northwards of Preston.
It is perhaps fortunate that there are, in the third decade of the 21st Century with access to computers and Internet, other Local TV services that can provide real competition to the main players. In northern North West England there is That’s TV Cumbria and Border and That’s TV Lancashire, and although they have some limited geographic availability (via Freeview Channels 7 and 8) they have a website presence. There is also the You-Tube based Isle of Man TV for Manx viewers (here: https://www.youtube.com/c/IsleofManTV), and a number of community-based local You-tube based TV- services are springing up in other parts of the North of England: Should both ITV.Plc and the BBC comprehensively fail to provide geographic-appropriate Regional News-coverage for much of northern North West England, it is to be hoped other local Community-type TV programmes fill the gaps in the market in the future.
If programmers at both ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight see viewers switching to more local alternatives for Regional TV, that will curb their zest for mothballing or amalgamating their Regional TV shows, or continuing to overlook less-populated northern parts of North West England. That is, if viewers make their views felt clearly in direct communication with the mainstream Regional TV programmers. In the meantime, viewers in North Lancashire, South Cumbria, and on the Isle of Man need to make it abundantly clear that sharing in any Regional TV programming within a huge TV Super-Region that also encompasses almost all of Yorkshire, parts of the north-east Midlands and Lincolnshire is an absolute No-No!