While it had initially been suggested an 80m temporary transmitter to replace the Bilsdale transmitter – which was severey damaged by a fire on August 10 – would take three weeks, a meeting of the North York Moors National Park Authority heard its construction was some way from starting and would take a month alone.
Members were told many people living in the North-East and Cumbria BBC area of North Yorkshire south of Teesside had no signal and that escalating frustrations over that had been exacerbated in the Bilsdale area by the lack of a mobile phone signal as a result of the fire.
Although a replacement mast would not need to go through planning process, international environmental regulations mean that the development must not harm the sensitive moorland habitat.
The meeting saw the authority’s members and officers agree to do everything in their power to accelerate the erection of the temporary mast, including delegating any necessary decision-making powers to the authority’s most senior officers to bypass committee meetings.
However, the meeting heard Arqiva had been concentrating their contacts with the landowners, Mexborough Estate, to overcome access issues, and had not contacted the national park authority until several weeks after the fire over dealing with potentially time-consuming International regulations over the site.
The authority’s director of planning Chris France said that as far as he was aware the 309-metre guyed mast structure, which was opened in 1969, appeared to be beyond repair with “a huge bulge in it”, leaving it so insecure a 400-metre exclusion zone had been created around it.
Arqiva are targeting using a disused quarry on the moor to the south of the exclusion zone for an emergency mast because that would have least impact on the biodiversity.
Mr France said that emergency national planning regulations allowed replacement masts as long as they were movable without the need to go through the planning process.
Arqiva has proposed to put it on sleds, weighed down by large blocks of concrete flown there by helicopters. The structure would then be secured by guys attached to the surrounding heather moorland.
Nevertheless, as the site is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and had been classified as a European Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation since the mast was built, Arqiva consultants have asked whether it is necessary to screen the development for environmental and habitat impacts.
Mr France said if screening processes are deemed necessary the timescale for any consultation may take a further month.
However, he added as the temporary mast would not be permanently tied down it would not be suitable over the winter at such a height and exposed location and after three months, Arqiva had indicated “another replacement replacement mast” may be required which they said would be subject to full planning permission.
The meeting heard a second complication was that the mast had mobile phone equipment on it and people living and working in the area had been left with no signal. Members were told mobile phone operators were now searching for places to put a mast up.
A spokesman for Arqiva said as Bilsdale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest to replicate what is there would not be a simple task.
He said: “The legal process to secure appropriate access to the site to build the temporary mast is taking longer than we initially anticipated and as a result it will not be operational by this weekend as we’d hoped.
“We are making representations to the court as to the severity and the urgency of the situation, but we are in the hands of the judicial system currently.”