Labour MPs join Tyne Tees row

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TONY BLAIR, the Shadow Home Secretary, is to join calls for Yorkshire-Tyne Tees to be stripped of the Tyne Tees licence if it goes ahead with plans virtually to do away with the separate North-east ITV region.

The plan, exclusively revealed in the Independent on Sunday last week, is to close down most of the company's local operations and transfer them to Leeds. This involves serious breaches of both the licence granted to Tyne Tees 18 months ago and undertakings given at last year's merger.

Mr Blair, whose Sedgefield constituency is in the Tyne Tees area, is to join with two other North-east Labour MPs - Nick Brown and Peter Mandelson - in an onslaught on both Yorkshire-Tyne Tees' board and the Independent Television Commission in order to retain Tyne Tees' identity.

Other senior figures in the North- east have written a letter of complaint to Sir George Russell, the chairman of the ITC. These include Jeremy Beecham, the head of Newcastle City Council, and Sir John Hall, the chairman of Newcastle United Football Club and the Northern Development Company, which represents business people in the area.

The TV company's plans have already caused Granada Group to pull out of talks to buy a 15 per cent stake in Yorkshire-Tyne Tees owned by WH Smith. This would have brought the two groups closer together and might have led to a sharing of news and transmission facilities. However, Granada has put the proposals on ice while it considers the fallout from Yorkshire-Tyne Tees' plans, which have already brought about the departure of Ian Ritchie, Tyne Tees' respected managing director.

Yorkshire-Tyne Tees' management met with the ITC on Friday, after which the commission issued a statement saying: 'The ITC has asked Tyne Tees . . . for details of how in practice it would continue to fulfill its obligations to the ITC and to the region.'

Documents sent to the ITC have highlighted a number of breaches of Tyne Tees' franchise application, the licence that was granted and the undertakings given. These include:

Twenty-one of the 'key personnel' names in the licence application have either left or are leaving.

The religious programming side, highlighted as an area of excellence, has been closed.

A promised extra two and a half hours of extra regional news will not now be made.

The promised satellite studio in Sunderland is not now being built.

And, perhaps most important, Yorkshire-Tyne Tees has brought in consultants to review whether to close the City Road studios in Newcastle, described in the licence as a centre where Tyne Tees 'intends to produce network as well as regional products'.

The studio site, already half-empty, is estimated to be worth pounds 5- pounds 6m - a tempting sell-off for a company such as Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, which has to pay more than pounds 55m a year for its broadcasting licences.

(Photograph omitted)