Work starts on new 314-metre Bilsdale mast to restore services

Workers at the Bilsdale site. Image: Arqiva.

The firm responsible for providing television and radio signals to swathes of the North has revealed its plan to fully restore services with a new 314-metre mast remains on track to be completed by the end of the year.

Arqiva chief executive Paul Donovan said the firm was striving to cut the time in half of what would normally be expected to replace such a towering structure on one of the country’s most environmentally sensitive sites at Bilsdale on the North York Moors.

He was speaking at North Yorkshire-based firm Severfield’s expansive plant at Dalton Airfield Industrial Estate, near Thirsk, as it was announced the steel firm had won the contract, thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds, to fabricate the 200-tonne structure.

Arqiva is expecting the final of five investigations, from the firm’s insurance company, into the cause of the fire which destroyed the previous mast in August last year to be completed in the next two weeks.

Mr Donovan said: “That I’m sure will be of great interest to everybody. It’s been a source of frustration for us that it has taken so long, but we had to have due process around something as significant as this.”

Severfield, which has previously worked on large-scale projects such as the London Olympic Stadium and the London Shard, said it had been handed “tight timescales” to produce the structure in order that viewers across Yorkshire and the North-East get a full restoration of signals as soon as possible.

The coming months will see the steel fabricated by Severfield, before going away to galvanised and being turned into flat pack-style units and taken to Bilsdale for it to be reassembled in a modular way.

Mr Donovan said: “I’m very satisfied with the progress we are making on what will ultimately be one of Britain’s top ten tallest structures at 314m-high, weighing 200 tonnes with lots of very complex electronics and other equipment which needs to be installed upon it.

“At the moment it is on track, but as with all things it is weather dependent, as you can only work at height when the wind is below a certain velocity, so we’re hoping for a good summer.

“Everybody has really pulled the stops out to ensure their normal delivery timeframes get shrunk without any compromise to quality.

“We all realise the importance to people of getting this project finished so we can have service fully restored to what it was before.”

When asked if the new structure had been designed to avert a repeat of the catastrophic incident which irreversibly damaged the previous mast, Mr Donovan replied: “It’s too early to be definitive about that, but if you look at this structure it’s a fundamentally different design.

“The previous mast was a cylindrical structure, but the new mast will be a lattice-based structure which actually has some benefits in its ability to tolerate wind, but also if there were any fire on a lattice-based structure it is potentially less vulnerable to the kind of catastrophic outcomes we saw before.

“The previous tower was 50 years old and technology, construction and aerodynamics have all moved forward tremendously during that time.”

Over the coming months the firm will have to report to both Ofcom and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about their overall response.

Mr Donovan said: “We have responded many ways in an exemplary way, going way beyond the contractual requirements we have with our customers.

“In terms of processes there are things which we now know we would do better, but there isn’t anything I have seen so far that would have prevented what happened.”

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, who was attending the announcement, said while the loss of the original mast had proved difficult for many people, and in particular vulnerable people, he was satisfied with Arqiva’s progress after overcoming initial delays.

He said he was delighted the contract had been awarded to Severfield, helping secure jobs at the Dalton Airfield site where about 400 people are employed.

Mr Hollinrake added: “It’s great that we can actually do this sort of stuff in the UK  and I’m proud that it’s in my patch.

“Some people think it’s just big lumps of steel, but actually it’s pretty complex stuff when you put it all together, like a gigantic Mechano set.”

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