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

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!