As tens of thousands of people could still be left without a TV signal for the foreseeable future, Paul Donovan, chief executive of site operator Arqiva, uses today’s The Northern Echo to apologise to those affected and explains what is being done to restore services.

IN our business, we know how absolutely vital TV and radio services are to people everywhere and every single day, and especially to the elderly and the vulnerable. They can provide companionship, as well as providing vital information in challenging times.

That is why I want to apologise once again to people who have been affected as a result of the fire at Bilsdale mast last month. And it is why I want to reassure you that we are working around the clock with our partners to fix this problem and to restore your services as quickly as possible.

The Northern Echo:

This week I saw the work at the site itself, in the shadow of the damaged mast. I met and spoke with community groups, local authority leaders, MPs, national park figures and many more people who are affected and who are working on solutions. My teams are doing the same: working flat out alongside partners to find solutions and engaging with local communities to address their concerns. I heard real frustrations and received offers of support and help, and I stressed our absolute commitment to the task.

Across the area I met with the leaders of local authorities who provide social services, the heads of social housing providers in the affected areas, and people who run key charities who support and reach older people and those with special needs. Together, we agreed to establish a working group which will work – at speed – to help deliver a solution for those who are most in need. All of the groups were receptive to Arqiva’s plans. I am grateful for their support and the determination which we share.

We realise that, while some people have found temporary fixes themselves so they can watch TV, and we have restored services to others, there are many vulnerable people who currently have no service. They must be our priority, and we are working with charities and local authorities on urgent next steps. We will provide an update on our plans to directly help those who are most vulnerable as soon as possible.

The Northern Echo:

We have made some progress, and this week we restored services to over 100,000 more households through a temporary mast at Sutton Bank. This is a complex and challenging task, and there is clearly a lot more to do. Bilsdale Mast, such an icon in the region, is one of the tallest structures in the country. It is over 300m metres high and weighs 500 tonnes.

While we continue to investigate what caused the fire, our view is that the damage it caused means it is highly likely the existing mast will have to be safely dismantled. It will be rebuilt in due course.

Our recovery plan has meant that around 500,000 households have some of their Freeview TV services back. So far, we have used a combination of its existing sites and new, temporary structures – such as at Eston Nab and Arncliffe Wood - to restore services.

The next stage of the plan is to build an 80 metre-high temporary mast on a quarry site near the existing mast at Bilsdale. A team of around 100 people will be working on the site preparation and the helicopter lift for the mast structure and transmission to be fixed in place. We aim for that work to be completed within approximately three weeks.

Working with local authorities, landowners, planning bodies, central Government, broadcast customers and regulators, the national park and many more, we have taken steps forward in recent days. It is expected that this temporary mast will restore Freeview TV services to over 90% of affected households in the coming weeks.

I would like to extend a special thank you to all those people across the area who have been supporting their friends and neighbours who may not have access to the internet or other sources of information and entertainment.

My team and I share the frustrations of the time this complex restoration work is taking. We are committed to fixing it as quickly as we can, and to working with people across the North-East and North Yorkshire to restore the services they love and deserve.