Plans to replace the fire-damaged Bilsdale transmitter and restore TV and radio signals for large swathes of the Harrogate district are being held up by the transmitter’s location within a rare heather moorland.
The blackout of Freeview TV channels and loss of radio signals has affected thousands of homes, particularly in the northern part of the district, after a major fire on August 10 put the 1,030 ft mast out of action.
Patience is wearing thin among many people, who have now been affected for three weeks.
Stray Ferret follower Lynette Cooper, who lives in central Harrogate, summed up the mood when she said:
“I’m totally fed up. For weeks now, I haven’t been able to see any of my favourite programmes.
“It’s the same for my daughter Helen at her home in Pickering and a friend told me that some elderly people at a Harrogate nursing home she goes to, just sit there with nothing to watch.”
The Bilsdale transmitter, built on the moors near Helmsley in 1969, is one of the most powerful transmitters in the UK, serving hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners from North Yorkshire to the North East and beyond.
In a statement on August 13, transmitter operator Arqiva said:
“Our plan involves the erection of an 80m temporary mast at Bilsdale and we have been surveying the site to identify the best alternative locations within the restrictions we have.
“Included in this is the fact that Bilsdale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, meaning we have to seek agreement to place any additional equipment.”
In its most recent update since the fire incident, the company could still not provide a likely date when services would be restored. It said:
“We continue to work through the process to enable access to the Bilsdale site to build the temporary mast.
“There is no specific new detail to share at this point but we are continuing to work round the clock to find a way forward.”
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The transmitter’s location within a government-protected area of 44,000 hectares of moorland continues to be a stumbling block.
The area was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its heathland habitat and breeding birds. Special permission needs to be granted for access across it.
Natural England says on its website:
“Heather moorland is rare on a worldwide scale – there is probably less heather moorland in the world than tropical rainforest.
“One of the largest continuous expanses of upland heather moorland in England and Wales is here in the North York Moors – a sheep could wander from Egton to Bilsdale without leaving it. Moorland covers a third of the North York Moors National Park and most of the higher ground is covered in heather.”
The area is also a designated Special Area of Conservation — a status reserved for important plant habitats in Europe — and a Special Protection Area because of its importance to breeding birds.
Although the access issues are yet to be resolved, Aquiva said last week some Freeview services had been restored for those who receive signals from smaller relay sites. None of them are in the Harrogate district.
A TV Licensing spokesman has said customers unable to receive TV coverage for more than a month will be eligible for a refund or free extension of their TV licence.