A small part of north-east Cumbria benefits from having NorthEast based TV.

This article was originally written on 26th March 2018, but has been amended for today.

Dear Readers

There is a small part of north-east Cumbria close to the border with Northumberland and County. Durham which is not really in the NorthWest of England since their local rivers drain eastwards into the River Tyne or the River Tees:  Either that these locations are close to the major catchment-divide between North East and North West and cities and towns in North East England are within an hours’ drive and (in a number of cases) within 20 miles away.  The towns and villages of north-east Cumbria to which this set of circumstances applies- where rivers drain eastwards rather than west- include Nenthead, Alston, Garrigill, Midgeholme, Tindale, Coalfell along with a few farms several miles to the east of Brough close to the County Durham border.  In addition there are a number of communities within 20 miles’ drive of towns such as Middleton-in-Teesdale, Stanhope, Haltwhistle and Hexham (all in the NorthEast)- this would be considered really local to places such as Brough, Brampton, Warwick Bridge, Wetheral, Gilsland and Castle Carrock.  Together this makes up a sizeable number of locations, with a total population exceeding 20,000 people for whom events in Haltwhistle, Hexham or Middleton in Teesdale would be much more local than events in Keswick, Maryport or Cockermouth in West Cumbria (let alone Preston or Lancaster).

It is conceivable, therefore, that folk living in Alston, Brough or Brampton would not derive much benefit from being in a special Cumbria-only sub-region because they would lose coverage of locations across the border into Northumberland or County Durham that they would go to for shopping, visiting friends, going to auction marts (please bear in mind that many people living in these rural parts of north-east Cumbria will be farmers) or going to a pub-lunch. Furthermore, owing to the geographical situation it is in, the area Nenthead and Alston in the Cumbrian Pennines receive television programming from the Pontop Pike transmitter near Gateshead and not from the Caldbeck transmitter- so as things stand they could not receive NorthWest Regional Programming even if northern Cumbria was switched to receive a new NorthWest Television service dedicated just to Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man (not that folk living on Alston Moor would ask for it either)!

These areas of north-east Cumbria are the only areas that actually benefit from being in a North-East based Television Region; provided of course the regional news ensures rural areas of County Durham, the Tyne Valley and northern Cumbria were covered well. It is of benefit to these areas if they remain in the BBC (NorthEast/ Cumbria) Region, but that benefit is not very tangible if the Regional news-programming mainly focuses on the urban areas of Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside.  The regional programming has similarities to that of the North-West programming in that the urban areas are covered extensively along with Sport (which folk in towns and cities like) and little room is made for coverage of their rural hinterlands.  Northern Northumberland gets little coverage and viewers there do not get to find out about sitiations just a few miles over the Scottish Border, because of the cut-off in programming at the northern edge of the transmission area; this cuts through communities like Coldstream, Cornhill-on-Tweed and the areas around Berwick-upon-Tweed. Viewers in South Cumbria have similar issues with BBC North-West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports when they give little coverage of the area and no coverage of events further north into Cumbria!

Communities in the north-east of Cumbria, to the east of Carlisle, are within an hours’ drive of Newcastle and also Gateshead Metro Centre- to which folk can easily get on the train. People in north-east Cumbria go there for major shops, travel to hospital there and go that way en route to the airport (either to pick family and friends up/ take them to the airport- or to go on holiday themselves). People living in the above-mentioned communities of north-east Cumbria will also have family-members and friends living in Newcastle, western County Durham or in Gateshead who live within an hours’ drive.  It follows that folk in these areas have an interest in what goes on in those areas, probably more than what goes on in South or West Cumbria.

If it is deemed that northern Cumbria would benefit from opt-out programming of northern Cumbria in a new BBC North-West Region, this is not something likely to be of benefit to those in the very north-east of the county; infact it is something likely to anger them.  The relay-transmitters should then be tweaked to ensure these parts of north-east Cumbria continue to receive North-East Television output:  The onus then is on BBC Look North (North-East/ Cumbria) to provide more coverage of the more rural northern and western parts of their transmission area, with overlap into those parts of Cumbria no longer receiving their programming and northwards into the Scottish Borders.

As one travels westwards across northern Cumbria there is a transition in how regional output from (and largely about) the North-East of England is received by the local communities:  East of Carlisle, folk have an interest in what goes on in the North-East and will tend to watch BBC Look North, but west of the city there is comparatively little interest in any news-coverage that does not concern Cumbria. Viewers in Carlisle and Penrith- and points west watch ITV Border with its flagship evening news programme Lookaround; the English version of which covers Cumbria very well but (with the exception of the odd story about Berwick on Tweed or the western Tyne Valley around Haltwhistle in Northumberland) does not cover the North-East except for the joint Tyne-Tees-Border news in the mornings and at at weekends.  Most viewers of regional news west of Carlisle find coverage about the North-East of England something to be tolerated rather than appreciated.  By the time you reach Whitehaven, Egremont and south as far as Shap the fact that the BBC Regional news-service comes from (and is 85% about) North-East England will be positively infuriating.

However, this does not mean any part of northern Cumbria would want to be transferred to the BBC North-West Region as is; it was tried between October 1986 and September 1991 and it caused uproar.  Viewers in northern Cumbria are even less interested in 90% Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire than 85% North-East being at the exclusion of their area.  The correct solution is for a new BBC North West Region covering just Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man, with two opt-outs for the Isle of Man and also for northern Cumbria within the main bulletins.  It is also possible that northern Cumbria could get opt-out programming from BBC North-East, although western Cumbria and immediately south of Penrith certainly identifies more as North-West and this would need to be reflected in opt-out programming with some (about 10%) overlap coverage southwards over Lancashire and northwards over the Scottish Borders.

However northern Cumbria receives new programming, some relay-transmitters need tweaking so that parts of north-east Cumbria interested in getting North-East news can continue to do so.

Ian Pennell

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