What Harrogate TV viewers need to know on mast problems and when they will be fixed

There has been some progress but, be warned, thousands of frustrated TV viewers across the Harrogate district may still have to wait months for normal services to be resumed after delays to repair work on the blaze-torn Bilsdale transmitter mast.

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 5:16 pm
The Bilsdale TV mast before the balze - Recent days have seen Arqiva, the company who own and operate the stricken mast, announce a new series of temporary measures which shouldhelp many viewers in North Yorkshire.
The Bilsdale TV mast before the balze - Recent days have seen Arqiva, the company who own and operate the stricken mast, announce a new series of temporary measures which shouldhelp many viewers in North Yorkshire.

Despite initial hopes that repairs would take only three weeks to complete after the 315m-tall transmitter tower was hit by a devastating fire last month, no actual work has started yet at the site which saw eight pumps and fire crews from across the region tackle the blaze after it engulfed the mast at Bilsdale near Helmsley on August 10.

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Recent days have seen Arqiva, the company who own and operate the stricken mast, which provides digital TV signals for most of North Yorkshire and large parts of north-east England. announce a new series of temporary measures which should help many viewers in North Yorkshire.

But, while the majority of the estimated one million people initially affected have had their reception restored, a significant number remain unable to access digital terrestrial TV channels.

An exasperated Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said the situation was “unacceptable” and said he had complained to the boss of Arqiva and Minister for Media, Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP.

TV mast problem: What Harrogate's MP says

Mr Jones, who met with Arqiva bosses yesterday, Wednesday and was due to meet Mr Dowden today, Thursday, said: “To be told that some services may be out for another two months for some households in North Yorkshire isn’t acceptable.

"The television is a lifeline for many particularly those who are nervous about going out as much still during a pandemic.

“I fail to understand why the mast owners, the land owners and other stakeholders groups can’t get round a table and get a solution up and running quickly.

“I am pleased that calls have resulted in active discussions and additional communication.

"But it is hard to see why everyone can’t work together to get round issues of who owns the land, planning processes and other concerns."

TV mast problem: What is the current state of play on mast repairs/replacement

As fears grow that the current mast, which was built in 1969, is beyond repair - it is now regarded as so insecure a 400-metre exclusion zone had been created around it - its owners Arqiva are keen to install a 80m temporary mast.

Arqiva need to replace the existing 300m mast and transmitters to restore full coverage.

As a temporary measure Arqiva want to install at 80m temporary mast until the existing 300m mast is repaired or replaced, but this will need to be well away from the 300m mast and in compliance with SSSI restrictions.

Emergency national planning regulations allow replacement masts without the need to go through the planning process - as long as they are movable.

Arqiva has proposed putting the new mast on sleds, weighed down by large blocks of concrete flown into North York Moors National Park by helicopter.

But the firm has found itself bogged down in access issues with landowners and the judicial system over the rules protecting the site which is classified as a European Special Protection Area and is located in a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

TV mast problem: New efforts to help TV viewers

Arqiva said yesterday that it had deployed a combination of its existing sites and new, temporary structures to restore services.

As a result it was now able to announce that an additional new transmitter site at Sutton Bank was now providing Freeview TV signals to more than 100,000 households in areas including Harrogate, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon, Masham, Leyburn and northern parts of York.

TV mast problem: What is the next stage for restoring TV coverage for viewers

The next stage of the plan is to build an 80 metre-high temporary mast on land near the existing mast at Bilsdale which will take at least three weeks once planning oermission is given.

The latest news from Arqiva is it expects to receive permission shortly for what would be a partial and temporary solution.

Working with local authorities, planning bodies, central Government, broadcast customers and regulators, the national park and others, good progress has been made in recent days.

The company said it has a team of around 100 people are in place to undertake the site preparation, helicopter lift for the temporary mast structure and transmission set up.

Once erected, it is expected that the new temporary mast will restore Freeview TV services to more than 90% of affected households.

TV mast problem: How tricky is a long-term solution: What TV viewers can expect

North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning, Chris France, has warned a permanent solution might not happen swiftly and that a temporary is likely to be just that.

Mr France said: “Arqiva has asked whether it needs to physically screen the work for environmental and habitat impacts.

"If that’s deemed necessary, the timescale for consultation may take a further month.

"As a temporary mast will not be permanently tied down, it may not be suitable over the winter.

"Arqiva have indicated another replacement mast would likely be needed after three months but that would have to seek full planning permission.”

TV mast problem: What TV mast operator says

Speaking yesterday, Wednesday, the chief executive of Arqiva, the company who own and operate the Bilsdale mast, said the company was apologetic but its engineers were making progress

After meeting council and community leaders across the area to discuss the restoration of services and how to prioritise the most vulnerable people affected, Mr Paul Donovan said a new, temporary mast would restored some TV services to more than 100,000 more people in North Yorkshire.

Mr Donovan said: “First and foremost, I want to apologise again to those who people who have had their services disrupted by the fire at Bilsdale Mast; and especially to those who rely on television for companionship.

“Our absolute priority is to restore services as quickly as we can. We have a detailed recovery plan which continues to progress as quickly as possible. This morning Freeview television services were restored for over 100,000 more homes in the region.

“However, this is a complex task and there is clearly a lot more to do, so we are working with our partners as quickly and safely as possible.

“Our teams are doing everything in their power to restore services for as many people as possible as quickly as we can and we will provide further updates on progress.

"I would like to extend a special thank you to all those people who have been supporting friends and neighbours who may not have access to the internet or other sources of information and entertainment. We will prioritise the most vulnerable people affected.

"Having provided a technical solution for the vast majority, Arqiva is now meeting with local organisations such as Age UK, local authorities and housing associations to discuss the best way to serve these people."

TV mast problem: Essential factfile on Bilsdale mast

There are two companies involved in broadcasting from the transmitter mast at Bilsdale:

Arqiva (who own and operate the mast) and Freeview (who broadcast the TV signals from the mast).

Built in 1969, the Bilsdale mast is the tenth tallest structure in the UK at 314m (1030ft) tall. (Arqiva operates nine out of the top ten).

At a total of 685m (2260ft) above sea level, it is one of the highest in the UK.

The tubular structure weighs approximately 500 tonnes.

The Bilsdale transmitter provides Digital Terrestrial TV along with digital and FM radio signals to the area, including:

PSB1, 2, 3, COM4, 5, 6, 7 & LTV – Television multiplexes

BBC Radios 1-4, Radio Tees & BBC DAB

SDL, MuxCO North Yorkshire DAB, BAUER Teeside, Digital 1

TFM, Capital, Heart & Classic FM

It also provides mobile phone and other ancillary services that require a broad reach.

According to Freeview, more than 500,000 households are served by the mast in normal times.

Not all of these households are solely reliant on Freeview for TV services (being able to access online services/players, the Freeview app, Freesat or subscription satellite or cable services).

Within nine days of the fire Arqiva had returned some Freeview television services to around 250,000 households, and the following day that was extended to around 400,000.

There are 16 relays which receive a signal from Bilsdale and pass it on to smaller areas, they have all now been restored.

Radio services have also been largely restored.

Questions on the license fee should be directed to the Television Licensing Unit at https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/ or on 0300 790 6076