The Prime Minister has received assurances plans to fully restore TV and radio services to swathes of the North are on track to be completed in the coming months as the firm responsible for them apologised for the ongoing disruption residents are facing.
However, some 16 months after the 314-metre tall Bilsdale transmitter suffered catastrophic damage in a fire sparked by a water leak, communications infrastructure firm Arqiva has declined to give an estimated date for the launch of the replacement towering structure.
Arqiva chief executive Shuja Khan, alongside members of the project team building the mast on one of the country’s most environmentally protected sites in the North York Moors National Park, has told Rishi Sunak the new mast was expected to be providing TV signals to the area in the spring.
The Richmond MP, who was visiting the village of Chop Gate, near the transmitter site, said he was aware of the impact that the loss of TV services on many people in the area, and in particular elderly residents.
Temporary masts and relay stations have provided some services to the vast majority of viewers and listeners in the period since the fire.
Arqiva estimates it will have spent in excess of £40m including viewer support, replacement services and the subsequent rebuilding of the main mast.
Mr Khan said: “We’re sorry for the ongoing disruption caused by the fire at our Bilsdale mast. The Arqiva team has been in close and regular contact with Mr Sunak since the fire, to provide help and guidance to those who were experiencing problems with their service as a result and we have now restored some services to more than 99.5 per cent of those affected.”
He said the incident had highlighted “the value that the public put on the TV and radio services that they get through an aerial”.
Mr Khan added: “When complete, the Bilsdale mast will be one of the tallest structures in the country, and under normal circumstances a build of this kind would take up to two years. We are working hard to complete the job in a significantly shorter timeframe to restore full service for everyone in the area.”
After speaking to Mr Khan, Mr Sunak did not appear to acknowledge that many people still had significantly reduced or intermittent services.
Mr Sunak said: “The fire at Bilsdale transmitter in August last year caused significant difficulties for many of my constituents, many of them elderly, who rely on broadcast television and radio services to watch and listen to their favourite programmes.
“While the vast majority of constituents did have their service restored shortly after the fire, I am pleased to receive reassurance that plans for the full restoration of these services are on track for spring 2023.”
North Yorkshire County Council’s Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said many people, especially in the Upper Dales, did not have the services they had before the fire and that many others were regularly having to retune to get a signal.
He said: “It is surprising that Rishi Sunak appears to think everything is fine as he is not having to struggle with the problems his constituents are struggle with. It certainly isn’t as rosy as he would like to portray it. Even for those of us that have Freeview restored it is not a constant service.”