A Regional News- Service for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders

July 2021

Dear Readers

The vast rural area of northern Britain that encompasses rural mid and northern Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, West and East Lothian (just south and east of Edinburgh) along with the extreme north of Cumbria north of Carlisle covers an area of some 5,000 square miles:  For all practical purposes this massive rural area is bounded by the A69 east from the M6 to Throckley (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne) in the south, a line from Throckley to Ashington on the SE Northumberland Coast to the south-east, the Northumberland Coast and Scottish Borders/ East Lothian Coast up as far as North Berwick to the east/ north-east then the A1 and A720 south of Edinburgh then A71 west as far as Junction 8 of the M74 (near Motherwell) to the north-west. To the west, this vast area is bounded by the M74 and the northernmost extent of the M6 from SE of Motherwell to Carlisle.

This is a huge geographical area, but it is not served well by Regional Television- even ITV1 Border’s Lookaround which is broadcast to most of the Scottish part of this area- and which does include Berwick-upon-Tweed news-coverage typically only has about 30% coverage of this huge area. Of course, ITV1 Border’s programming, which includes the political programme Representing Border and also Border Life (which specifically covers southern Scotland and is only watched on ITV1 Border (Scotland)) is by far the best Regional TV News service for anywhere in this vast area. The extreme north of Cumbria and western tip of Northumberland also receive ITV1 Border Lookaround from ITV1 Border (England) and as local news-coverage goes it is the best that there is for those areas.

BRIGHT EARLY SPRING DAY IN THE CHEVIOTS. VIEW LOOKING SOUTH-EAST FROM ROAD SE OF KIRK YETHOLM IN THE SCOTTISH BORDERS, MARCH 2005. THE LARGE REGION ENCOMPASSING NORTHERN NORTHUMBERLAND AND THE SCOTTISH BORDERS SUFFERS FROM A LACK OF GEOGRAPHIC APPROPRIATE LOCAL AND REGIONAL TV NEWS-COVERAGE.

The coverage on BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) on the evening of 22nd July was illustrative: There was just one news- item concerning Northumberland when water-restrictions affecting the North East- following hot dry weather- were discussed. There was a report about Hallington Reservoir (just east of the A68 about 10 miles north of Corbridge) together with a very dry River Tyne at Corbridge. No other news north of the Tyne was covered whilst there was extensive coverage of proposed County and District Council re-organisations in Cumbria and North Yorkshire- which (with the exception of the far south-west of this huge area that just extends into northernmost Cumbria)- is largely irrelevant, particularly for northern Northumberland.

Communities within this large area of rural Northumberland and southern Scotland east of the M74 have more in common with each other- rugged, rural with strong local connections between them- than with the urban areas outside of it, either the urban North East of England, the Central Belt between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland or indeed the city of Carlisle. However, because this huge area straddles across a de-facto national boundary (which also provides a hard transmission border between TV Regions) this vast rural area is diminished as a region in its own right.

There are strong links between rural Northumberland and southern Scotland, particularly the Scottish Borders and likewise strong links between the extreme north of Cumbria, rural western Northumberland and across the border into southern Scotland. Even local politicians now recognise that this large region is a distinct region which, together with Cumbria, is home to over 1.1 million inhabitants and which will be regenerated through the Borderlands Growth Deal (here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/450-million-borderlands-growth-deal-now-underway). Of course, it can be said that ITV1 Border covers this large area, and it is true that ITV1 Border (whether the English or Scottish version) is the default ITV1 Region for most of Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and south-west Scotland. However, one would struggle to get ITV1 Border programming without either the Internet or Sky TV across most of rural Northumberland and it is not the default Regional News- service immediately south and east of Edinburgh nor those parts of South Lanarkshire that are in the north-west of this large rural region (and where the default independent Regional TV is Scottish Television (STV)).

The links between communities across this Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ rural Lothian Region are numerous: Berwick-upon-Tweed has a football team in the Scottish football leagues and Berwick-upon-Tweed is the county town of the ancient county of Berwickshire (most of which extended across what is today the Scottish Borders). The Union Chain Bridge across the River Tweed from Fishwick in Northumberland to the Scottish Borders is another example of the links between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. The town of North Berwick, in East Lothian- along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth- is actually slightly north of Edinburgh and the town was named as such in the 13th Century to distinguish it from Berwick-upon-Tweed then distinguished as South Berwick by the Scots (this being part of Scotland at the time).

This large region has somewhat different weather than the urban North East, the Scottish lowlands and Carlisle: It is rugged, with most of this huge region being above 200 metres’ elevation and its only coast is with the relatively chilly northern North Sea. As a result, the weather here is often significantly colder than the North East coastal cities and the Forth Clyde valley between Glasgow and Edinburgh, particularly from autumn through Spring. Overnight 10th/ 11th January 1982- during an exceptionally severe wintry spell of weather in Britain- the temperature fell to -26.6˚C at Bowness, near Selkirk and -26.2˚C at West Linton (both in the Scottish Borders) (pp164-165, http://www.ijmet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/69.pdf). The temperature also fell to -21˚C at Haydon Bridge, Northumberland that night. In early December 2010 another extremely cold spell brought minima of -14˚C or colder across parts of rural Northumberland and the Scottish Borders including -19.5˚C recorded at Redesdale. Daytime maxima were widely below -5˚C on 20th December 2010 across this large geographic area (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/binaries/content/assets/metofficegovuk/pdf/weather/learn-about/uk-past-events/interesting/2010/snow-and-low-temperatures-december-2010—met-office.pdf ). Meanwhile, both in January 1982 and December 2010, extreme minima and low maxima were typically 5˚C less bitterly-cold (and less snowy) than across rural Northumberland and the Scottish Borders- which logs some of the most extreme winter cold recorded anywhere in the UK (including the Scottish Highlands and Grampians of NE Scotland) during cold winters!

Suffice to say, the conditions affecting this large (and decidedly upland) rural area- and the issues affecting folk living in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders/ Lothian are decidedly different to the issues affecting folk in the adjacent, more urban lowlands to the north-west and to the south-east. For some-one living in (say) Wooler, Coldstream or Jedburgh what happens in Tyneside, Wearside, Glasgow, or Stirling is of little, if any, relevance to their day- to- day lives unless (that is) they have family living there. Folk living in these places would much rather have their Local and Regional News to be about Berwick-upon-Tweed, Galashiels, or Kelso, that is within an hour’s drive and among places that they are likely to visit, commute to or go shopping in and where the issues concerned (like rural transport or hill- farming) will be the issues more likely to affect them.

Such a huge and distinct area in its own right should have its own Regional News programming: ITV1 Border (Scotland) goes some way towards providing tailored coverage of southern Scotland, northernmost Northumberland and (of course) Cumbria but not every part of this large region- not least those on the Northumberland side- can access it. To be fair, ITV1 Border (Scotland) provides          

About 35% coverage concerning far northern Northumberland, the Scottish Borders and easternmost Dumfriesshire for viewers on the Scottish side of the Border- particularly since the ITV1 Border (Scotland)- only productions Border Life and Representing Border concern southern Scotland, albeit with plenty of coverage of what happens in the Scottish Parliament. However, given the size of this huge Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ Lothian region of northern Britain the areas where localised programming can be seen and the total of areas covered scarcely begin to do justice to such a large region, distinct as it is from the lowland urban North East and also the urbanised Scottish lowlands along the M8 Corridor, even though ITV1 Border (Scotland) comes closest to providing this massive region with geographic- appropriate coverage.

Thus, one of three things needs to happen so that this large Border region gets much more geographic- appropriate Regional Television coverage and these invariably involve either the BBC or ITV1.Plc spending more money on Regional TV:

  • The BBC provides 15-minute opt-out coverage from both BBC1 Reporting Scotland and BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) for rural Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, West and East Lothian, eastern Dumfriesshire, and SE South Lanarkshire. This would be transmitted from new news- studios in Berwick-upon-Tweed or Selkirk and it would provide tailored news-coverage for this large Border Region. Viewers in the extreme north of Cumbria, north-east of Carlisle should also be able to access this BBC1 Border opt-out. The entire Border region would then receive some 50 to 55% coverage although the net cost would be some £2 million a year (cost of new studio, recording equipment, new reporter and changing transmission patterns, less the reduction in costs of reporters having to travel from Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Glasgow to cover North Northumberland or the Scottish Borders).
  • ITV Tyne Tees provides 15 minutes’ opt-out coverage from within its main Regional News bulletin for Northumberland- with viewers transferred to ITV1 Border (Scotland) which also receives this special opt-out coverage (from ITV1 Border Lookaround) covering Northumberland and southern Scotland- including the Lothian areas just south and east of Edinburgh.  This means that viewers in the north of the ITV1 Tyne Tees Region and in ITV1 Border (Scotland) receive this specialised opt-out coverage from the old Selkirk Opt-Out from ready-made studios in Selkirk. This measure would lead to the large Border region getting 45% coverage. Given there is already an ITV1 Border (Scotland) presence in Selkirk, the only additional cost is a couple of reporters/ editors and changing ITV transmission patterns to accommodate the opt-outs. Net cost likely to be around £1 million per annum but may fall to zero with higher viewer-satisfaction (and viewing figures) in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders leading to increased advertising revenue both for ITV1 Border and ITV1 Tyne Tees.
  • Central and northern Northumberland is transferred to the ITV1 Border (Scotland) transmission Region which then provides 20 minutes’ bespoke southern Scotland and Northumberland coverage in an opt-out from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround. This would lead to 65% coverage of this entire Border region at a cost of little over £1 million annually initially (the Selkirk studio already exists, and it is used for Border Life and Representing Border (which are seen on ITV1 Border (Scotland)), but higher viewer satisfaction and viewing figures would lead to higher advertising revenues to ITV.Plc offsetting most or all of this cost within a few years.

Unfortunately, anything that costs money is likely to be resisted by the BBC and ITV.Plc, so if you live in rural Northumberland and want more geographic-appropriate news-coverage which also extends across the Scottish Border you will have to write in (giving them the above suggestions). Tell ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 North East/ Cumbria about the lack of appropriate news-coverage for your community- and point out that, as far as you are concerned- your area of interest does not stop at the Scottish Border.

BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) can be contacted at this Email: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk, or you can write to: BBC Look North, Broadcasting Centre, Barrack Road, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE. NE99 2NE. 

ITV1 News Tyne Tees can be contacted at this Email: ttvnews@itv.com, or you can write to:   ITV News Tyne Tees, Television House, The Watermark, GATESHEAD. NE11 9SZ. 

An interesting aside, one which is a legacy of the tie-up between the ITV1 Tyne Tees and ITV1 Border TV Regions is that the main presenters who currently present ITV1 News Tyne Tees, that is Ian Payne and Amy Lea, are the same presenters who front ITV1 Border’s Lookaround- programmes being produced and aired from The Watermark in Gateshead! Their email-address is amyandian@itv.com. Because of the geography of the areas that they cover in their bulletins, both Ian Payne and Amy Lea ought to be open to the idea of overlap coverage for those areas close to the ITV1 Tyne Tees and ITV1 Border transmission boundary- i.e., in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. This applies for viewers in the Scottish Borders (who receive ITV Border (Scotland) programming) who might want to know a bit more about Northumberland as well as North Northumbrian viewers who might want to know what is happening over the Border in southern Scotland (and who receive ITV1 Tyne Tees programming). I am sure that Ian Payne and Amy Lea could discuss these issues and collaborate with ITV1 bosses to work out what’s best for Northumberland- including transferring mid and northern Northumberland to the ITV1 Border (Scotland) transmission area!       

If, after writing to them, ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 North East/ Cumbria fail to address your concerns after you have written to them and have received a reply, then contact OFCOM:  OFCOM make clear that the BBC and ITV.Plc must provide locally-relevant content for all their viewers as a condition of their Public Service Broadcast (PSB) licences.  Get your friends who live locally to do the same.

Write (don’t merely email) to OFCOM’s Complaints Department at:

OFCOM Complaints, PO Box 1285, WARRINGTON. WA1 9GL

OFCOM is the one organisation with powers to put pressure on Regional TV providers to make them cover all areas effectively.  However, if your pleas fall on deaf ears write to your local Member of Parliament who will be as follows dependent on where you live in Northumberland:

Berwick-upon-Tweed:  Right Hon. Lady Anne Marie Trevelyan, MP.

Email: annemarie.trevelyan.mp@parliament.uk

Hexham:  Right Hon. Sir Guy Opperman, MP.

Email:  guy.opperman@parliament.uk

Wansbeck:  Right Hon. Sir Ian Lavery, MP. Email: ian.lavery.mp@parliament.uk

However, your MP can always be contacted at the following address if you wish to write (which I would advise as emails often get filtered by Parliamentary Secretaries and you want to maximise the chance that your communication reaches its intended recipient) :

House of Commons, Westminster, LONDON. SW1A 0AA.

Get several of your friends to write to the local MP about Regional TV coverage locally, so that your MP puts pressure on the North East Regional TV services to provide better coverage of Northumberland- with overlap into the Scottish Borders: That is likely to result in either BBC1 North East/ Cumbria or ITV1 Tyne Tees resolving to cover the north of their transmission areas better.

Above all, write to ITV1 News Tyne Tees and BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) to state that unless improvements in news- coverage North of the Tyne are made that you will seek alternative sources of local programming, which do exist. If you live in Northumberland there’s You Tube based Hexham TV (which focusses on Tynedale and which can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/Hexhamtv/) and there’s also Northumberland TV (https://www.youtube.com/user/NorthumberlandTV). These are both You Tube based and could not be considered a proper Local TV service, but there are sufficient local news clips that can be watched in lieu of the often- irrelevant North East Regional News- services that cover Sunderland, Teesside and North Yorkshire more (and with most coverage not being within an hour’s drive of your home). Then, if you can get ITV1 Border (Scotland) via your TV aerial then do so: If you point your TV aerial north and it has a clear view into Scotland you should be able to get a signal. Failing that ITV1 Border (Scotland) programming can be accessed from the Internet from the ITV1 Border website (here: https://www.itv.com/news/border), from where you can find links to watch ITV1 Border’s Lookaround and editions of the most- recent southern Scotland- focussed programmes Border Life and Representing Border.

All of this will give you local coverage of Northumberland and also news across the Border into southern Scotland that neither ITV1 News Tyne Tees nor BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) will touch, but which are  areas that may well be of interest to you because you visit them in nice weather, commute there or even have close friends and family living there. ITV1 Border’s Lookaround does also have some coverage of northernmost Northumberland- around Berwick-upon-Tweed, so you would get more local coverage from it than from ITV1 News Tyne Tees if you live near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

If, as a north Northumbrian viewer, you do have to get more relevant local news- coverage from these other sources so that you get news that is local and that covers areas that you frequent, then do inform the main North East England -based Regional TV News- services of your intention to do this: The very fact that viewers have alternative sources for Regional News coverage might make the Regional News programmers based in Tyneside take note- and they might adjust their programming and coverage (perhaps by providing a North of Tyne opt-out) so that they don’t lose custom. You can point out to ITV1 News Tyne Tees that if you have to go onto the Internet to watch ITV1 Border (Scotland) programming that ITV1 will lose advertising revenues because advertisers go by TV audiences when deciding to place an advert on ITV1 Tyne Tees or ITV1 Border (Scotland). It is easier to avoid adverts on the Internet! That will incentivise ITV1 Tyne Tees programmers to cover Northumberland and provide overlap into southern Scotland more.

Do be encouraged that People Power can- and does- work. Thirty-five years ago, the BBC in their wisdom decided that viewers in Carlisle and North Cumbria should get their Regional News from Manchester- with 80% coverage of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Cheshire- simply because the BBC decided all Cumbrians should get North West news: This was done in a way that upset lots of viewers who really liked Mike Neville, the main BBC Look North (Newcastle) presenter at that time. Uproar ensued, the local Carlisle newspaper Evening News and Star got involved as did local MPs representing North Cumbrian constituencies as people wrote in. There was a very strong lobby that the “local news” was not local and that folk living in North Cumbria tended to travel to Newcastle or Gateshead for major shopping trips, to go to the airport, etc., rather than travel to Manchester (which is twice the distance). Eventually, after five years, the social and political pressure on the BBC caused a re-think and North Cumbria was transferred back to the BBC North East Region.

That’s not to say that Cumbrians would not benefit from a more North West- or rather Cumbrian-flavoured news-programming (which they actually get from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround), but the truth is nowhere north of Preston ever really got (or gets) appropriate local and Regional  news-coverage from BBC1 North West Tonight, even less for those stuck with ITV1 Granada Reports! For folk living as far north as Carlisle or Silloth, such a “local news” service must have come across as downright insulting!

So, People-Power can work! It might take five years of campaigning for rural and northern Northumberland to get a more local and geographic- appropriate news- coverage, and this Website will be full- square behind you, but don’t give up! If you write to the Regional News providers, write to Ian Payne and Amy Lea at ITV1 Tyne Tees/ Border and then (if your pleas fall on deaf ears) to OFCOM and your Member of Parliament Regional Programme-Producers will get the message and North Northumbrians will eventually get the Regional News- programming that they should appropriately and rightly have!           

7 thoughts on “A Regional News- Service for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders

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