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Concern that the original tv relay site on the cliif-tops at Whitby will become dangerous and eventually collapse into the sea has prompted site owners National Grid Wireless to relocate the tv mast further inland. Now thousands seem to have been left with inferior and unacceptable signals.

Whilst the site chosen for the new Whiby mast following the public consultation may have been chosen to have the least environmental impact it was not the best site from a coverage point-of-view and according to some reports it leaves up to 5000 homes with poor reception.

Most of Whitby has worse reception than it did before. Many parts of the town which had a clear view of the original mast but now do not. The situation in the Sandsend area is particularly acute and this was clearly known at the outset. Outline planning permision was sought for a new relay to be built at Sandsend. Two alternative sites were proposed for this relay and, again, put to a public vote. The site chosen was at the Sandsend BT exchange, grid reference NZ865123.

A sketch of the likely appearance of the proposed Sandsend relay

Alarm bells started ringing when work failed to start at the Sandsend site and local residents have now been informed by NGW that proposed relay will not be built after all. Local residents have started a petition to have the switch if of the old relay delayed.

Independent aerial installer Bill Wright recently visited the area to assess the problem at first hand:

I was in the area this week and knowing that the new mast would be operation I couldn't overcome my curiosity, so I parked our survey vehicle in Sandsend, cranked up the mast, and pointed the aerials towards the new transmitter. These screenshots show the abysmal quality of the TV reception I obtained. This was with a very good aerial and a signal booster.

Dodgy pictures from our survey van at Sandsend

At the same location I was able to get perfect reception from the old mast, but of course with a caption telling me that 'this transmission will end soon'.

No-one can be expected to watch such blurred and snowy TV pictures, so it's clear that the people of Sandsend won't be able to get their TV reception from the new station.

Sandsend telephone ExchangeBut surely everyone knew this all along! That's why the proposal for the new mast included a filler station for Sandsend, as part of the package that was presented to the public. So what's happened to the filler station? Again my curiosity drove me on, this time to the Sandsend telephone exchange where the filler station must by now, I thought, be almost complete. Imagine my astonishment when I saw that the telephone exchange looks exactly the same as it did in June - except that the grass has been cut!

So it seems that the Sandsend filler station isn't going to happen. Provision of the filler station was part and parcel of the original proposal, yet it is to be quietly dropped. When transmissions end from the old Whitby site in a few weeks the people of Sandsend will be without television, unless they spend a fair bit of money on satellite TV. To restore the status quo they will need a separate satellite receiver for each of their TV sets and video recorders.

I made enquiries and I was told unofficially of the line that will be taken. This is that the filler station "will only be built if it turns out that it is necessary". This is technical hogwash of the highest order! TV coverage nowadays is an exact science using computer modelling and satellite-derived topographical mapping. It is inconceivable that the transmission companies didn't know to the finest detail what the coverage of the new mast would be, from the moment they fed its parameters into their computers two or more years ago. In my opinion it appears that the master plan has always been to promise the Sandsend relay and then simply break the promise, in the cynical knowledge that viewers will be forced to convert to satellite. After a few months this will have happened and the fuss will die down. The people of Sandsend will have suffered great inconvenience and expense, and the broadcasting bean-counters will have done their job.

Why has this been allowed to happen? The public service broadcasters are the paymasters of the TV transmission companies, and they have an obligation to the viewers to provide the best possible reception. They have cynically disregarded this obligation and have reneged on promises made that TV reception would continue much as before.

The fact that the public were invited to vote on the location of the new site has been used as an excuse for the abysmal cock-up that has been made of this affair, as if somehow the people who voted for the new site are to blame. But of course, only alternatives that would work should have been offered. Asking the man in the street to select a TV transmission site is like having a referendum on the best way to carry out brain surgery. If you ask a person without specialist knowledge where they would like a transmitter mast to be located, they are likely to chose somewhere where it isn't highly visible. Unfortunately, to work properly TV masts have to be highly visible, because TV signals behave like light. All the vote did (and all it was designed to do, in my opinion) was allow the culprits in this affair to pass the buck.

Scarborough Council has a duty to look after the interests of their citizens and they have failed lamentably in this matter. Either they have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the broadcasters (which is incompetence) or they have quietly decided to let Sandsend suffer (which is just simply disgraceful). They ought to be down like a ton of bricks on whoever is responsible for this act of deception - but don't hold your breath.

Of course it isn't only Sandsend that will suffer. I strolled around Whitby today and saw quite a few signs of the trouble and expense that is being foisted on the residents. There were plenty of brand new aerials, including
a few very large expensive ones in places where reception from the new mast will inevitably be very poor. I saw an old man atop a tall and rickety wooden stepladder, fiddling about haplessly with a vintage Sky dish while
his wife shouted "No, no, no, still nothing!" from inside the house. And of course, I saw a lot of brand new Sky dishes. Incidentally, I wonder how many of the owners have subscribed to Sky, not knowing that they could have gone for Freesat?

A lot of residents have taken no action so far. I guess they are just sitting there, inured to the ever-present rolling banner at the top of their screens and not really believing that their TV picture will disappear on October 16th. And there's a little twist in the story here. Was the date for the final switch-off of the old mast chosen at random, or could it be that it was chosen to coincide with the switch to digital in the Whitehaven area? That will be the big news story on the day. Any news of discontent emanating from little old Whitby will be totally eclipsed. It will be, as someone said almost exactly six years ago, "A good day to bury bad news."

I'm an outsider of course. I'm just an occasional visitor to the area, and I only write because my technical expertise has allowed me to see through what appears to be an act of gross public deception. I urge the people affected by this to kick up an almighty fuss. Is it right that you have to pay a TV Licence fee when your TV service has been taken away? Don't let them get away with it!

Bill Wright
Wright's Aerials

According to National Grid Wireless "only a very small number of properties would benefit from the filler site and as a result, NGW and the broadcasters regret it is unviable for us to build a new relay transmitter at Sandsend. The result of this is a small number of households may no longer be able to receive adequate terrestrial TV signals."

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