Rural Northumberland receives hardly any coverage whatsoever either on BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees. ITV Border (Scotland) could come to the rescue.

There was a news report on broadband being rolled out in mid-Northumberland on ITV Tyne Tees this evening (https://t.co/Wc9uFj1M0H?amp=1). It was the first news- item from anywhere significantly North of Tyne for several days. It is very clear that viewers of Regional Television who live in Northumberland more than twenty miles north and north-west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne do not get good effective local news- coverage. It also causes discontent for viewers to have little or no coverage of their area, none at all of places to the north of them (because these places happen to be just over the Border into Scotland) but plenty coverage of locations an hour’s drive (or further) to the south.

BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), which is received by all of Northumberland arguably provides even worse coverage of the county than ITV Tyne Tees. Aside from a report on a prison near Morpeth, almost all of the county (except the urbanised south-east corner) has not been covered for ten days: This is not, perhaps, surprising for a Regional Television service that has a transmission area extending from Ripon, in southern North Yorkshire right up to the Scottish Border, just north of Berwick-upon-Tweed- and extending across most of Cumbria too.

The fact remains is that the North East Regional Television news- broadcasters cannot cover such a huge area and provide good effective news- coverage that keeps everyone happy across such a massive area in a half-hour programme: Viewers in Cumbria will want much more news about Cumbria and (certainly) west of Carlisle and south of Penrith- they would want a more North West flavoured Regional News Programme, viewers in North Yorkshire will want more coverage of their county with some coverage of the North East but further south will also want some coverage of the major Yorkshire cities and surrounding areas. In northern Northumberland, viewers will want more coverage of locations within an hour’s drive of them- i.e. Northumberland with some overlap into the Scottish Borders and towards Edinburgh.

The BBC North East/ Cumbria transmission area is certainly too big and needs trimming back: If West Cumbria and the North Lakes were returned to BBC North West (with BBC North West required to cover Cumbria properly by reducing some Sports coverage) and the more southerly portion of North Yorkshire- south of Thirsk put in the BBC Yorkshire Region, it would be possible for BBC North East to concentrate more on neglected rural areas like northern and western Northumberland. Cutting a minute off Sports coverage would also free up resources so that rural Northumberland and rural County Durham (west of the A68) could be covered- with some overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders too. The result would be a significantly improved Local and Regional News Service for viewers in towns like Bellingham, Otterburn, Cornhill-on-Tweed and Wooler in Northumberland and towns like Middleton-in-Teesdale and Stanhope in County Durham.

Sports fans are unlikely to suffer too much from a minute trimmed off coverage of Newcastle United on BBC Look North- there are now multiple Sports Channels they can access on television: Besides, a Regional News service should really prioritise providing just that- News.

However, it is possible that Regional News Providers in the North East would balk at producing any overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders for fear of upsetting Brexit-supporters who live in North East England (and who cannot stand Nicola Sturgeon/Scottish folk because of their perceived stance on Brexit). So, there is another solution, one that will make North Northumbrians happy.

This solution involves the television transmitters at Chatton and Berwick-upon-Tweed being tweaked so that all of northern Northumberland receives the Scottish version of ITV Border, the programmers of which still provide coverage of Berwick-upon-Tweed for the benefit of viewers in the Scottish Borders. Since ITV Tyne Tees and ITV Border are produced nowadays from the same site in Gateshead, there should be little problem with collaboration so that viewers close to the transmission boundary between ITV Border (Scotland) and ITV Tyne Tees gain a better all-round news-service. This could involve a pooling of resources so there is more Northumberland news- gathering, with news produced that could be used for both ITV Tyne Tees and ITV Border (Scotland). Postcode mapping could also be used so that viewers in Otterburn, Rothbury and Widdrington pick up ITV Border (Scotland).

It is unlikely that, on the Scottish side of the Scottish Border viewers of ITV Border (Scotland) object to (perhaps) 10% more coverage of Northumberland since they have lived with coverage of Berwick-upon-Tweed and some coverage of Cumbria for a long time. Since Cumbrian viewers of ITV Border receive the English (or Cumbrian) version reducing some of the coverage of Cumbria in lieu of more Northumberland coverage won’t cause any grief- and it is certainly more relevant for viewers in the Scottish Borders.

However, for rural northern and north-west Northumberland,ITV Border (Scotland) would provide a much better news- service. Viewers in places like Seahouses, Bamburgh and Alwinton will finally have a real choice of Regional News, they could watch BBC Look North (with news mainly about places an hour or more away) or they could enjoy a local news-service that also recognises their strong cultural and historical links across the Border into Scotland.

Westernmost Northumberland- that is locations west of Hexham- could be post-code mapped to receive the English version of ITV Border (which manly covers Cumbria), rather than ITV Tyne Tees. This would put western parts of Northumberland into a TV sub-region that has less than one-sixth population than the ITV Tyne-Tees transmission area, so rural communities like Allendale, Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge would stand a much better chance of being covered: These areas would also receive coverage of Carlisle and northern Cumbria with which these rural areas of western Northumberland have more affiliation than with the urban North East.

At a stroke, ITV Border (Scotland) taking on northern Northumberland and ITV Border (Cumbria) taking on westernmost Northumberland would also help safeguard the future of the entire ITV Border franchise: Increasing the population of its transmission area will help eliminate the threat of this vital ITV Region being mothballed- this would not only be bad news for Northumberland but also Cumbria and Southern Scotland, where ITV Border provides excellent local news-programming. Financially there would be virtually no cost to such a move, since the only cost involve will be the one-time tweaking of some relay transmission masts in northern and western Northumberland.

If you live in rural Northumberland and bemoan the lack of local news- coverage and the absence of overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders (which is an area you may visit on a fine day in the summer), why not write to the Programmers at ITV Border requesting to be transferred to the ITV Border (Scotland) or ITV Border (Cumbria) transmission area depending on just where you live in Northumberland? Email ITV Border at: btvnews@itv.com

No News about North, West and Mid Northumberland during the last week on BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees.

Visit Kelso | Bordering on Brilliant | Roxburghshire, Scottish Borders,  Scotland
View of the small town of Kelso in the Scottish Borders, taken from the air. This is somewhere that is very unlikely ever to feature on BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV Tyne Tees unless the good people of Northumberland complain about the lack of coverage of places that are still local to them which are beyond the Regional News services’ transmission boundaries.

The good folk of Berwick-upon Tweed must be wondering whether they (or, should that be ITV) made the right move back in 2006 when they were transferred from the ITV Border (Scotland) transmission area to ITV Tyne Tees because the furthest north the North East Regional news has come (Both on BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV Tyne Tees has been a nine-year old girl from Blyth (still 60 miles south of Berwick) doing litter- picking! At least Blyth is in Northumberland, but hardly local to the good folk of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cornhill-on-Tweed or Wooler. In any case, Blyth is in the urban south-east of the county, a northwards extension of Tyneside, where residents have concerns and worries that are a million miles from those of farmers and villages who live up along the Scottish Border.

It is certainly high time that the BBC and ITV Regional news- programmers in the North East rectified this problem because a Regional News service is not providing effective localised coverage for all its viewers if 200,000 folk (the population of rural west and northern Northumberland) and half of the geographical area of North East England gets no coverage for days on end. For days, now, the nearest “local news” for viewers in places like Byrness, Seahouses, Norham and Falstone has been an hour’s drive away or further.

It is also unacceptable that there is not an overlap zone for coverage into the Scottish Borders, in view of the strong links between Northumberland and southern Scotland. Both Regional broadcasters for the North East of England provide overlap coverage southwards across North Yorkshire for the benefit of their northern North Yorkshire and Teesside viewers, there should also be overlap northwards for the benefit of North Northumbrian viewers who travel into the Scottish Borders for days out, to visit relatives and (occasionally) to go shopping. There have been a couple of fatal road accidents and the A68 collapsing in a land-slip in the Scottish Borders during the summer- not one mention from BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees.

Virtually nothing specific on Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

Dear Readers

BBC Look North (covering the North East and northern Cumbria) featured a news- item about health officials in the Scottish Borders expressing concern about rising Coronavirus cases in neighbouring Northumberland: It is perhaps the only significant reference to rural Northumberland this week. The Regional News virtually never gets north of Tyneside and (when it does) its often just a general reference to Northumberland which, as a county, covers most of the geographical area of North East England. The reference to the Scottish Borders is perhaps the first time there has been a significant nod towards recognition of the fact that there are strong cultural and community links across the Border from Northumberland to the Scottish Borders since the summer (when there was a news- report on maintenance of the Union Chain Bridge over the River Tweed- where this marks the boundary between England and Scotland).

Over 200,000 people live in rural North and West Northumberland, many at a sufficient distance from Tyneside and Wearside such that significant happenings just over the border into Scotland have more of a bearing on their lives than what happens in Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Sunderland. A good Regional News service does not stop at the Regional (or national) Border nor at the transmission boundary beyond where one cannot see the Regional Programme in question. Overlap zones, for Regional and local news-coverage are important to ensure that viewers at the margins of the large transmission area in which BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) is received still get good all-round local news- coverage.

Most evenings, rural Northumberland is lucky to get one news- item of coverage (out of – usually- about ten news-items): The only happening reported on BBC Look North referring specifically to part of rural Northumberland this week was that of a fatal road traffic accident when a motorcyclist was killed, near the picturesque town of Bellingham, in the North Tyne valley. For locations that are forty, fifty and even over sixty miles north and north-west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne such a proportion of coverage of Northumberland (without overlap into the Scottish Borders) really does not make for a good local news- service for that northerly part of the English North East.

Regional News Programmers at BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees (which is now broadcast to all of Northumberland) would, of course, argue that since rural Northumberland has just over 200,000 people- compared to over three million who live in the vast transmission area stretching from near York in the south right up to Berwick-upon-Tweed: In the case of BBC Look North they would point out that they cover much of Cumbria (also covering a large area) too. However, that is no excuse- a minute could be shaved off the Sports coverage (football fans have other channels they can watch) to make room for news about rural Northumberland.

In the case of BBC Look North the transmission area is indeed huge: It is 150 miles from York up to Berwick-upon-Tweed and over 130 miles from St Bees Head (in West Cumbria) to Redcar, on the coast east of Middlesbrough. The programme is thus broadcast to all of North East England, most of North Yorkshire and most of Cumbria and the cities- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland, Durham, Middlesbrough, York and Carlisle take the lion’s share of coverage. It means that vast areas of rural Northern England from northern Northumberland to the North Lakes, the North Pennines and the northern Yorkshire Dales are covered acutely thinly. This is why central and southern North Yorkshire- including towns like Malton, Scarborough, and Harrogate- really should be transferred to the BBC Yorkshire Region (which might provide those areas with more relevant coverage) and (certainly) West Cumbria and the area immediately south of Penrith should be transferred to a new BBC North West Region that just covers Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man (this would be much better for West Cumbria and in keeping with Regional identity): This would then free up air-time (and resources) for BBC Look North to cover Northumberland (complete with overlap into the Scottish Borders) much better.

However, the BBC are unlikely to make provision for covering Northumberland better unless local people write in, and make clear that they feel their local areas are being overlooked. In the first instance you can contact BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) at: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk . To contact ITV Tyne Tees email: ttvnews@itv.com.

15th September 2020: A New Site to focus on Regional Television coverage for the northern North East of England

Dear Readers

I already have a website that draws attention to the deficiencies in Regional Television for viewers of BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports who live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire who do not get coverage of the northern half of North West England (i.e. Cumbria). This can be found at https://northwestisnorthwest.org/: Viewers in northern Lancashire and much of South Cumbria live just a bit too far south to receive an excellent signal from ITV Border (which covers Cumbria extremely well) and thus they have a choice between BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports, both of which will often not even mention Cumbria for a week, and they will often fail to cover anything north of Preston in their respective evening bulletins. Moreover, these programmes never cover even serious matters in northern Cumbria for the benefit of their viewers in the south of Cumbria: Thus not all of North West England is covered in Regional News programmes that say they cover North West England and the Isle of Man. I have therefore set up a Website which I am making the focal point for a Campaign to get the BBC and ITV in the North West to provide better local (and all- round) coverage for (potentially one million) viewers who live in a more northerly part of North West England who nevertheless suffer a poor North West Regional news-service.

However, this new Website is dedicated to viewers who live across the North Pennines and who also live in a rural county that extends well to the north of the urban areas of North East England- namely Northumberland. Since northernmost Northumberland was transferred from ITV Border to the ITV Tyne-Tees Region all of Northumberland now has a choice between ITV Tyne Tees or BBC Look North (the North East/ Cumbria version). Both these North East based Regional News services cover Northumberland poorly- one item out of ten news- items will be about rural North, West and Central Northumberland on a good night and there will be nothing north of Tyneside on a poor night. For the good folk of Berwick-upon-Tweed it means that “The News Where You Are”, as the BBC main news-presenter likes to say is sixty or more miles away (and often 100 or more miles away if its something about Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire- or West Cumbria). This is not acceptable for a Regional News- service that purports to serve everyone in North East England.

Rural northern Northumbrians also have strong links with communities across the Border into Scotland- particularly the Scottish Borders: The fact that Berwick Rangers is part of the Scottish Lowland Football League (and were part of the Scottish Professional Football League until last year) is one example of the cross- border ties. Edinburgh is less than an hour away from Berwick-upon-Tweed by train. However, this is not at all recognised by ITV Tyne Tees (the link-up with ITV Border has now been severed, which is actually good for folk living in northern Cumbria and southern Scotland who now get much more localised coverage) and not at all by BBC North East/ Cumbria programmers: Neither of the North-East based Regional News services provide any overlap coverage northwards into the Scottish Borders- which they should so that folk living at the northern margins of the transmission area receive more all-round coverage. This is therefore something that will be covered in posts on this Website and which will feature in the campaign to get Regional Television improved for viewers in Northumberland, so that they not only get more localised news- coverage of their communities but also a better perception of all-round local coverage too.

BBC Look North (North East and Cumbria) must indeed (as the name of the Regional News- programme suggests) Look North- to the often- neglected large rural hinterlands of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders: Hence the name of the Website (https://looknorthmustlooknorth.org/).

Regional News Programmes in Scotland and the North of England need a little ICE in them to enhance their “Northern-ness”

This article was originally published on my website North West is North West (https://northwestisnorthwest.org/) on 19th August 2020

LOOK NORTH MUST LOOK NORTH: An overlap to icy places just a bit to the north of the transmission area for a northern Regional Television service in northern England would not only provide some excitement and interest for viewers, but a little ice would also bring a sense of mystique and respect amongst northern viewers towards their more northerly hinterlands. It helps to affirm to northern viewers of Regional Television that the latitudes of their homes and the places that they frequent are a bit colder, harsher than the more southerly human-dwellers and thus that their Region and they are to be respected. It all helps to affirm and to “Big Up” the Northern Pride that Northern folk have!

I have made the point in recent posts that viewers of Regional Television in northern parts of Britain (i.e. Scotland, North West and North East England) like their news to cover some places further to the north of them but not so much further to the south of them: For example, viewers in Cumbria like some news about southern Scotland but are not happy to get news about Manchester or Liverpool- because this enhances their “Sense of Northernness”. To some extent, the higher the northern latitudes the news content is about the happier they are. But it’s a bit more than that.

Viewers of Regional Television in northern Britain do not just want a Regional News- Programme that gives them the news about their area: They also want their Regional News Programming to offer features that arouse real interest that not only enhances their “Northern superiority” compared to places well to the south of them but which offers a real sense of mystique and excitement with regards to their relative geographical location. Against that, of course, folk who live in (say) North East England and well away from the cities will also want their area covered well, with at least 20% of the news covered being within 25 miles (or half an hour’s drive) of where they live: However, a successful Regional Programme will have regular features and mini-documentaries that really enthuse the viewers.

Local Sports teams, and features like beautiful tourist attractions and countryside will bring some draw- though a Regional News- programme should not have too much Sport as most folk watch the Regional News to get news about their area. Coverage of major football teams can be found on Sky Sports and a whole host of other Sports Channels in 2020, sufficient to satisfy those that want to pursue it. Northern Regional News Programming needs to offer something that is unique to “The North” that cannot be found in other media. That something is related to the fact that places further north and nearer the Arctic have colder climates, have colder weather and this has unique effects on the landscape not readily found in the Midlands, Wales and southern regions of England- and that something is the presence of ice and snow on parts of the landscape in Northern Britain at times of the year when it is rarely (if ever) found in the Midlands and South.

The presence of ice and snow on a northern mountain on a sunny May morning (for instance) brings a unique sparkling beauty to the area- and a clear reminder like no other that the area is closer to the Arctic than London or Birmingham and thus has a colder, tougher climate to match its northerly location. If there are regular features related to this on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), BBC North West Tonight, ITV Tyne Tees or ITV Granada it would draw an audience more enthused with the evening bulletins than they are. Tied in with this is the desire of northern viewers to see news or features that enhance their “Northernness” by being about locations up to an hour to the north of them. So what could these features be?

BBC Look North (or ITV Tyne Tees) in the North East of England could have a feature on “The Last Cheviot Snow-Patch at the Top of Bizzle Burn” (730 metres above sea- level) on the north-east side of The Cheviot (summit 815 metres above sea- level), the highest mountain in the Cheviots. In most years, there will be patches of snow lingering until the end of April there. Both BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) and BBC North West Tonight could do a feature on “The Lingering Snows of Helvellyn”- patches of snow can be found on the north-facing slopes of this Lake District Mountain (which rises to 948 metres’ elevation) until may in most years- and a showery north-westerly air-stream in late April or early May (common in most springs) will often put a covering of gleaming white snow on the highest mountains in the Lake District, Cross Fell in the North Pennines or on the summit of The Cheviot itself.

In the summer months it is almost certain that one would not find any lingering snow-patches on the north-east side of The Cheviot or the north side of Helvellyn- but in the Cairngorms of North East Scotland, particularly on those mountains above 1,200 metres, there can be found patches of snow lasting until August. There is a gully on the north side of a mountain called Braeriach (summit 1,296 above sea- level), the gully is called Garbh Coire Mor and commonly has the most persistent snow found anywhere in the British Isles (snow has only completely disappeared from Garbh Coire Mor six times in the last century). Programmers for BBC Look North, covering North East England and northern Cumbria could do a piece on Garbh Coire Mor still filled with snow in August to point out that Newcastle-upon-Tyne is closer to This Icy Spectacle in high summer than the Houses of Parliament- combining a political fact with a stark geographical fact. This is one of those occasions when providing news from more than an hour’s drive to the north of the BBC Region would be justified (perhaps once every few weeks): It is about injecting into viewers a sense of real amazement at some hitherto little-known facts that truly “Big-up” their sense of “Northernness”!

BBC North West could provide pictures from some deep- frost-hollows in and just to the north of their transmission area in summer and early autumn. The village of Shap, in Cumbria lies in just such a frost- hollow as does nearby Kirkby Stephen in the upper Eden Valley. A clear summer night following a spell of cool westerly winds (not unusual in July or August) will see the air- temperature fall to around 6˚C, with localised mist and even a slight ground-frost whitening the grass at dawn. This, too, is about bringing a “Wow!” factor to the Regional News bulletins for viewers in North West England.

During the winter (even during a mild winter like 2019-2020), snow will blanket the Lake District Fells, the high fells of the North Pennines and the Cheviots on a regular basis. Views and images of the icy scenes provide viewers with a vivid and dramatic reminder of why their Region is different from those further south- all with their own periods of unique icy beauty not found in places to the south of the Region!

In June, near the summer solstice, half-light and sunset-like conditions can be found at midnight in Cumbria and Northumberland during dry clear weather- such light conditions are not observed at midnight in the southern half of the United Kingdom- and if Paul Mooney, the BBC Look North weather-presenter produced a “View North across Kielder Reservoir at Midnight” showing the red twilight to the north reflected in the water, that would be another unique “Wow!” for the viewers. Light summer nights are a uniquely Northern feature of nature defined largely by latitude- they should have a place in the Northern Regional Television bulletins as a means of enhancing the uniqueness of northern Regional News programming.

Massive sink-hole opens up underneath the A68 in the Scottish Borders. Not the slightest mention on ITV Tyne Tees News or BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria).

This article was originally posted on http://www.northwestisnorthwest.org on 12th August 2020

Viewers of Regional Television in the northern half of North East England were short- changed by both BBC Look North (North East) and ITV Tyne Tees: Lots of coverage of Tyneside, Sunderland and even Darlington (in southern county Durham) but nothing about a serious incident pertaining to anyone who lives north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who might be thinking of travelling north into the Scottish Borders for a trip out. It is an apt demonstration of the shortfalls of Regional News stopping at northern transmission boundaries and not having some overlap north of these transmission boundaries.

AMEY
THE A68 IS A MAJOR TRUNK ROAD BETWEEN NORTH EAST ENGLAND, THE SCOTTISH BORDERS AND EDINBURGH BUT THIS WAS THE SCENE NEAR THE VILLAGE OF FALA IN THE SCOTTISH BORDERS AFTER THUNDERSTORMS AND TORRENTIAL RAIN AFFECTED THE SCOTTISH BORDERS OVERNIGHT. NOT THE TINIEST MENTION, OF THIS POTENTIAL FOR MAJOR TRAVEL DISRUPTION FOR ANYONE LIVING NORTH OF NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, WAS HEARD ON ANY REGIONAL NEWS- PROGRAMMING FOR THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND.

There were thunderstorms and localised torrential rain in the Scottish Borders overnight and this led to localised subsidence of saturated land. In one instance, a flooded embankment subsided and it led to the formation a huge sink-hole in the A68 trunk road near the village of Fala, some 15 miles south of Edinburgh (more details here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2020-08-12/severe-weather-causes-road-to-collapse-near-fala): Not only did this mean travel along the A68 was severely disrupted, but (potentially) for anyone not informed about it travelling along the A68, the consequence could have been tragic. Indeed, some 130 miles further north near the small town of Stonehaven, in Aberdeenshire (in north-east Scotland) a landslip on an embankment did result in tragedy as it caused a train to derail with the consequence of three people losing their lives (two of which were the train- driver and the conductor). Six other people were seriously injured. This is a devastating tragedy for those who lost their lives, and for their grieving families (more on this here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-53751678).

The incident on the A68, where a huge sink-hole appeared across the A68, was covered by ITV Border, and it was certainly relevant to anyone on the move in southern Scotland. The incident near Stonehaven in north-east Scotland was tragic, but being well over 170 miles north of the most northern part of Northumberland would have no salience with people living in (say) Berwick-upon-Tweed unless they were related to anyone likely to be using the 06.38 am Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street train that derailed at around 9.30 am. What this incident does illustrate is the potential for heavy rain on roads and railways to have catastrophic consequences for anyone living in (and likely to travel to) the area. The incident near Fala, on the A68, led to the Police closing the road but it is the risk to life and limb for anyone travelling at speed during (or following) torrential rain that is an additional important issue here.

Most people will travel up to an hour on the train (or by road) on a day out, maybe several times in a year- be that a country drive or to visit relatives or go to a scenic spot for a walk. I recently drove the 42 miles from my home so that my brother could return his hire- car to Newcastle Airport, then I drove him 42 miles back to my home near Alston in the North Pennines. These are the sorts of trips most folk would make several times in a year.

It follows, therefore, that good Local and Regional News programming will not only provide their viewers with the most relevant and local news- content as possible (i.e. Immediately Local) but there would also be some coverage of significant events, especially those that they need to be warned about, up to an hour’s drive away from all viewers. That means BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) and ITV Tyne Tees News providing some overlap coverage (about ten percent of all news coverage) of significant events up to an hour’s drive (or train journey) beyond their the programme transmission- areas (where the Regional news programming can actually be seen).

People living in north and northwest Northumberland are within an hour’s drive of much of the Scottish Borders and the A68 is the main trunk road connecting the North East to the Scottish Borders and Edinburgh: The car-sized sink-hole dissecting the A68 near Fala should have made the North East Regional News- accompanied by a warning for people to avoid the area. More seriously, torrential rain causes sink-holes and mud-slides, potentially leading to chasms forming under busy roads and damaged railway lines- with the potential for disaster: The next time torrential rain (or, in winter, heavy snowfalls) is forecast as likely in the Scottish Borders or indeed in Dumfries and Galloway, Carol Malia would do well to warn viewers of BBC Look North (i.e. those in Northumberland and North Cumbria who may travel to such areas for work or to visit relatives for a day) not to travel, find another route or just take extreme care.

However, this evening we had the odd situation whereby Cumbrian viewers of ITV Border’s Lookaround news- programme (and who all live more than an hour’s drive and over 75 miles from Fala) were warned about this sink-hole dissecting the A68 whereas northern Northumberland viewers of Regional Television (who can no longer get ITV Border, and who have to choose between ITV Tyne Tees or BBC Look North (North East)), and who live within an hour’s drive of Fala and the A68 sink-hole received not the tiniest mention about it! This is not acceptable.

North East England is North East England- and BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees must cover Northumberland more.

This new Website will be dedicated to the cause of viewers of Regional Television in the north of North East England – i.e. in Northumberland. This Website will have articles focussed on the forgotten northern corners of North East England. This is the first one devoted to pointing out the deficiencies of Regional news coverage for people living in rural Northumberland- by which I do not mean Blyth and Cramlington (about ten to fifteen miles up the coast from Tynemouth)- which are really a northwards extension of Tyneside.

Rural Northumberland extends from 15 miles north and west of Newcastle- upon- Tyne right up to the Scottish Border and (in the west and southwest) to the boundaries with Cumbria and County Durham. Northumberland is a large county which extends seventy miles (as the crow flies) from the Durham Border near Blanchland (ten miles south of Hexham) in the south to the Scottish border at its northernmost point on the Coast four miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and 50 miles from the North Sea Coast to its westernmost boundary with Cumbria. Rural Northumberland is home to 200,000 people, almost one tenth of the population of North East England and, with a surface area over 4,000 square kilometres is almost half the surface area of North East England (not including North Yorkshire) with an area of almost 8,600 square kilometres. However, this vast rural area- taking in picturesque towns and villages like Allendale, Corbridge, Rothbury, Otterburn, Stocksfield, Widdrington, Amble, Alwinton, Wooler, Seahouses, Bamburgh and- right on the Scottish border Cornhill on Tweed – scarcely gets any real news-coverage on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) or on ITV Tyne Tees.

If one lives in the village of Byrness (northwest of Otterburn) or in the village of Belford, 15 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed a flick through the Twitter feeds of both BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) or ITV Tyne Tees (or a search through the news- stories of ITV Tyne Tees on their website) the sparsity of news about Northumberland (and within 50 miles or an hour’s drive) of either of these locations both illuminating and alarming. For instance, a scan through ITV Tyne Tees news stories on Twitter for the week ending 28th June 2020 shows that out of almost fifty entries only two referred to news specifically regarding Northumberland (about the county as a whole not specifically the more rural north and west of the county).

Folk living in and around Berwick-upon-Tweed used to get ITV Border (the Scottish version transmitted from Selkirk in the Scottish Borders), but recently the area was transferred to ITV Tyne Tees. At least ITV Border covered Berwick and North Northumberland- and provided plenty of coverage of events on the Scottish side of the border- which has more relevance to folk living in the North of Northumberland than (perhaps) news about Sunderland, Middlesbrough or County Durham. Of course, ITV Border, which mainly covers Cumbria and southern Scotland may not have provided much in the way of Northumberland coverage. However the low population of the ITV Border transmission area (less than one million people altogether) meant that northern Northumberland- together with the north-east end of the Scottish Borders local to Berwick-upon-Tweed and its environs- received much more coverage than it receives now under BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) or ITV Tyne Tees.

The issues pertaining to Regional news-coverage for rural north-west and northern Northumberland- in that they get little coverage of their local areas and none about significant events just over the Border into Scotland (which might still impact on their lives), but 90% coverage about events over an hours’ drive to the south- is so similar to what folk living in North Lancashire and South Cumbria face! Viewers in more northerly parts of North West England that receive BBC North West and ITV Granada output with their Regional News (supposedly for all the North West) have 85% coverage about Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire!

Of course, ITV Tyne Tees and BBC North East/ Cumbria have just over three million potential viewers compared to BBC North West and ITV Granada with just over seven million potential viewers in their transmission areas. It must be said, through that the BBC North East/ Cumbria transmission area- which takes in much of Cumbria and North Yorkshire as well as North East England covers a significantly larger geographical area than do the BBC North West and ITV Granada transmission areas (even though both include the Isle of Man). ITV Tyne Tees’ transmission area extends from York in the south right up to Berwick upon Tweed and is also a huge geographical area. This will greatly impact on the ability of programme producers to provide effective news-coverage for everyone.

That said, as with programme- producers for BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada- the programme producers for BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) and ITV Tyne Tees can make some changes to improve coverage of their northern rural hinterlands. The first is a commitment that one in ten news items in the main North East news bulletins should cover significant events in an overlap zone up to an hours’ drive beyond the transmission boundary. To some extent BBC North East/ Cumbria does this by reporting on happenings in South Cumbria and southern North Yorkshire for the benefit of viewers in Cumbria and North Yorkshire respectively. However, locations up to an hours drive (or train journey) south of York take in West and South Yorkshire and also Hull, locations up to an hours drive south of Penrith (Cumbria) will not only include all the South Lakes, but also Lancaster and Preston (i.e. Lancashire). And for locations in the BBC North East/ Cumbria transmission area and in the northernmost parts of the transmission zone, a train from Carlisle can reach Glasgow in one hour, Beattock Summit, in the Scottish Southern Uplands is within an hours’ drive of Carlisle. Edinburgh is less than an hour away from Berwick-upon-Tweed by train and places like Kelso, Peebles, Dunbar, St. Abbs Head and Galashiels are within an hours’ drive of Berwick- upon-Tweed and indeed much of northern Northumberland.

For ideal overlap zones, such that it ensures that people at the northern and southern extremes of the Region get to hear about events beyond the transmission boundaries- but still significant to them- whilst not diluting the BBC North East/ Cumbria brand half of the one in ten overlap news items should cover southern North Yorkshire and South Cumbria, whilst the remainder (that is one in twenty- or 5%- of all news items) should cover an area including West and South Yorkshire, the Hull and Beverley areas, North Lancashire and all of southern Scotland up to (and including) the Forth Clyde Valley area. Judging from the current news- coverage provided by BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), they probably cover South Cumbria a bit too much but they should shift some of that to cover southern Scotland, for the benefit of their northernmost viewers. Viewers of BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) who live near York or Malton should get coverage of the odd major situation in Leeds, Bradford, Pontefract or Hull.

However, the rural Northumberland area is undersold. A commitment to provide a minimum of one in ten of the total news items being about northern or western Northumberland on BBC Look North (and ITV Tyne Tees) would go a long way towards making sure viewers in this vast rural hinterland of North East England feel half- adequately represented. So, one out of the ten news items should cover the overlap zones beyond the transmission areas- and some of this must include southern Scotland; another one in ten news items (at a minimum) should cover North/ West Northumberland.

But this is not the ultimate ideal by far. As I have already covered in this website, all of Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man (but not including Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire) should have their own BBC North West Region, complete with opt-outs for the Isle of Man and Cumbria (see here: https://northwestisnorthwest.org/2020/06/20/the-ideal-for-regional-television-in-the-north-west-and-north-east-of-england/ ). Were this to happen, BBC Look North would only have to cover the small parts of northeast Cumbria that would not receive output via the Winter Hill and Caldbeck transmitters- and where viewers would be vehemently opposed to getting news about Lancashire rather than the North East in any way, shape or form! This includes Alston Moor and the areas around Brampton and Longtown and (with post-code mapping, possible in 2020) and some relay transmitters in place, they could receive their BBC (digital) output from the Pontop Pike transmitter, which is near Consett (County Durham)- the main transmitter for North East England.

The upshot of Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man with their own BBC North West Region is that for BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) it could just become BBC Look North (North East) with coverage focused on the North East, North Yorkshire and the tiny bit of northeast Cumbria still receiving their output. Coverage of all the rest of Cumbria could be put in the one in twenty news items that were overlap coverage of South Cumbria and southern North Yorkshire in the less- than- ideal solution described above, though the Barrow in Furness coverage could be safely omitted. The rest of the overlap coverage (one in twenty news items) could then safely exclude North Lancashire and (if all regional news- transmission south of Northallerton could be switched to the Leeds- based version of Look North through postcode mapping, etc) South Yorkshire and Hull could be excluded too. Then more of the 5% of overlap coverage not of Cumbria or southern North Yorkshire could focus more on southern Scotland to help provide better all- round news coverage for northern Northumberland and those parts of far northeast Cumbria still receiving BBC North East output.

With almost all of Cumbria part of a new BBC North West Region (focused on the northern three-quarters of the geographical North West) a revamped BBC Look North (North East) will not have to cover Cumbria to anything like the extent it does now. This then frees up more resources (and, crucially air-time) for it to commit to providing two in ten news items about Northumberland- in addition to (almost) one-in-twenty news items being about southern Scotland. This will make BBC Look North feel much more local and relevant to people living in a whole host of rural Northumberland communities- some of which I have mentioned near the beginning of this article- the issues and problems facing which are so different to those in the big cities like Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sunderland.

Such a change to Regional News would be a happy occasion for many who live elsewhere in North East England. News- coverage about West and South Cumbria (and seeing Cumbria on the weather-map a large protrusion sticking out left and down from the North East) possibly offends the sensibilities of Geordies and Mackems who probably do not appreciate news from locations that they consider to be in North West England and completely irrelevant to their lives. This is doubly true for the good folk of northern Northumberland for whom places like Whitehaven and Millom- in West Cumbria- are three hours’ drive and over 140 miles away! Indeed North East England is North East England, as indeed the North West is the North West – and Regional Television output does need to reflect the regional affiliation of viewers and reflect their Regional Identity better!

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