A FULL planning application has been submitted to build a permanent replacement for Bilsdale transmitter, five months after the fire which knocked out TV signal for tens of thousands of people.

Arqiva, which operates the site, has applied to the North York Moors National Park Authority for permission to construct a 306m steel mast with communications equipment, as well as to lay temporary access tracks and use a field for a construction "staging area" with helicopter landing.

Documents submitted with the application describe it as being part of the "requirement for Arqiva Limited to reinstate terrestrial television broadcasting services to households who remain without signal following a catastrophic fire to the Bilsdale Transmitting Station in August 2021".

Two temporary masts have been erected at the site, and a series of smaller relay stations at other locations to restore signals, but some properties are still cut off.

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The proposed new transmitter would provide terrestrial television coverage, DAB radio coverage and space for equipment for mobile network operators and emergency services.

According to the plans, the construction phase for the project will last approximately 12 to 15 months, depending on weather conditions, procurement of materials and availability of specialist construction workers. It is expected there will be vehicles accessing the construction site and a work gang of six to ten people present from 7.30am to 6pm, during this time.

An Environment Statement submitted with the plans states: "The proposed development is the final stage in a series of projects which, at first, provided emergency partial replacement coverage from the site, and now permanent replacement of coverage.

"There are currently two temporary structures. Both of these are intended to be removed at varying times once the replacement main mast becomes fully operational. Arqiva’s long-term vision for Bilsdale Transmitting Station is to return the site to use by a single broadcasting mast and associated equipment within a compound area in a similar fashion to the condition of the site prior to the fire in August 2021."


The fire at Bilsdale mast in August

The fire at Bilsdale mast in August


Ecologically, part of the development site is classed as being of international importance, and is used regularly by golden plover and merlin.

The plans state that the work has "the potential to result in disturbance to nest sites during installation of the mast, which could result in the reduction of breeding success".

"Looking at the numbers of ground nesting birds recorded within proximity of the Arqiva compound, it seems reasonable to assume that approximately three pairs and potentially as many as five pairs of golden plover may be displaced during the construction phase," the documents say. "This effect would be reversible and short term."

Merlin might also be displaced by the work. A nest site was previously recorded approximately 300m north of the Arqiva compound, but it is understood it has not been occupied in recent years. There are thought to be very few pairs of merlin on the North York Moors, with the population identified as between 35 and 40 pairs.

"It seems highly unlikely, given the small population size that displacement of nesting birds to areas away from the disturbance caused by construction will increase competitive pressure for nest sites within the surrounding moorland," states the plan.

The plans suggest that although the temporary construction access will require the removal of some moorland vegetation and topsoil, given the small area involved, this would not result in a significant impact.

Arqiva say construction will be subject to regular monitoring by an ecological clerk of works to ensure compliance with relevant regulations, and when the work has finished, the habitats within the temporary access tracks will be restored, with inspections in Spring 2023, Autumn 2023 and Spring 2024.

The firm concludes: "Overall, in landscape and visual impact terms, the proposed development, when set against the baseline of the former mast, is one which brings about limited effects. These are overall comparable with its predecessor which it replaces, however it is noted that there are some benefits of improved design which will offer some visual improvement."

Comments on the application can be made until January 23, and it can be viewed online via northyorkmoors.org.uk/planning