Public sector chiefs: end to BBC Look East show a 'retrograde step'

Public sector chiefs have written to the BBC urging the corporation to continue the Look East (West) broadcast

Public sector chiefs have written to the BBC urging the corporation to continue the Look East (West) broadcast beyond November 2022 - Credit: Archant

The BBC's decision to end its Look East Cambridge broadcast is a "retrograde step", public sector leaders in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes have warned.

Police, council and fire chiefs fear key news stories in the western portion of the East of England will not receive coverage if the BBC broadcasts a single Look East programme from its Norwich, Norfolk studios.

The BBC currently runs two regional Look East studios - one in Norwich covering Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and the other in Cambridge covering Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, northern Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire.

But in a bid to save £500 million per year, the corporation has decided to centralise its East of England programme in Norwich.

They also plan to end BBC Four, BBC Radio 4Extra and CBBC in their current linear channel format.

A map of the BBC regions in and around the East of England by ukfree.tv

A map of the BBC regions in and around the East of England by ukfree.tv - Credit: ukfree.tv

In a letter, the leaders of several organisations in Beds, Cambs, Herts and Milton Keynes said: "In this digital world, it is of course right that the BBC continues to look to the future, but in our collective view this is a retrograde step, leaving one of the fastest growing regions in the UK with a much-reduced television news service.

"Indeed, Bedfordshire is the fastest growing county in East Anglia in terms of population growth and that is set to continue over the coming years.

"The Cambridge edition of BBC Look East is an important and valued way in which all our organisations communicate with local communities, particularly on matters of vital public safety as we saw through the pandemic.

"Under this proposal, we are extremely concerned that many local issues will no longer receive the coverage or scrutiny they deserve, as a larger TV region not only means competing for airtime, but also leaves editorial decisions to journalists living and working in Norfolk, more than a hundred miles from our side of the region.

"With a growing population, diverse communities, and major social economic challenges we deserve our own dedicated television region.

"At a time when other local news services are under threat, the BBC should be enhancing their coverage, not returning to a 1980s approach to regional television."

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The letter has been sent to BBC director general Tim Davie ahead of the proposed Look East Cambridge edition end date in November.

BBC Look East in Norwich is based in The Forum

BBC Look East in Norwich is based in The Forum - Credit: Antony Kelly

When the move to end the programme was announced in May 2022, a BBC spokesperson said: "We're proud of our Cambridge service, which has served viewers well and produced some great journalism.

"We need to make tough choices as we change our services in line with audience needs.

"The Cambridge service is one of our lowest performing programmes, has only been running since 2018 and viewers already get news broadcast from Norwich at other times of the day."

They said journalists will "continue to deliver outstanding television, radio and mobile journalism for the area".

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, would like the BBC to continue funding the Look East (West) broadcast

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, would like the BBC to continue funding the Look East (West) broadcast from Cambridge - Credit: UK Parliament

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has previously criticised the move.

In May, he said: "I understand the pressure that the BBC is under, but the essence of local news it that it is local, and this is a step backwards. 

"Cambridge and the surrounding area are the fastest growing regions in the country, with real interest in local stories."

He added: "In parliament, I and others are busy making the case for the East, and BBC News is one of the key building blocks giving people an understanding of the issues in our area."

The signatories of the letter to Tim Davie are senior leaders at the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire police forces, Bedfordshire's chief fire officer and the leaders or mayors of Milton Keynes, Central Bedfordshire, Luton and Bedford Borough councils.

Charlie Hall, Hertfordshire Constabulary's Chief Constable, has signed the letter

Charlie Hall, Hertfordshire Constabulary's Chief Constable, has signed the letter - Credit: Danny Loo

Alberto Martin, Luton Airport CEO, has also signed the letter

Alberto Martin, Luton Airport CEO, has also signed the letter - Credit: Danny Loo

It has also been signed by Alberto Martin, Luton Airport CEO, and Justin Richardson, CEO of the Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce.

Cambridge City Council members - including leader Councillor Anna Smith - previously raised concerns that local stories could be missed by Norwich-based journalists at a meeting on July 21.