Europe's tallest structure to be cut down to size

A planned reduction of a Lincolnshire TV mast has prompted protests. By Paul Rodgers
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The Independent Online

It is more than 1,000ft high, but so unobtrusive that most people in the UK never even realised it existed, let alone that it held a European record. Now, Belmont Transmitting Station, one mile west of the quiet village of Donington on Bain, is about to divest itself of the only thing that made it notable.

The tower has dominated the skyline of the Lincolnshire Wolds for almost half a century, delivering television signals to viewers as far away as Doncaster. It is the tallest structure in the UK, and also claims for Britain the title of tallest structure in the European Union. But not for much longer.

The 387.75m (1,272ft) tubular steel tower is about to lose its record. Not because anyone is building a bigger one, but because its owner, the telecoms company Arqiva, plans to shorten it by 36m when a new digital aerial is installed in the autumn.

The height reduction will hand the title to the American military's 370m Torreta de Guardamar radio mast in Spain, followed by towers in Germany and Latvia. Britain's tallest structure will then be the 365m TV transmitter in Skelton, Cumbria, with Belmont slipping to 14th in the EU tower stakes.

Attempts by a handful of locals to stir up pride in the tower have failed. English Heritage refused to list it and planning approval for the change was granted last month despite two objections. A bemused Bruce Randall, an Arqiva spokesman, said: "Usually we get complaints when we try to make masts taller."

Some 50 tall transmission towers dot the British landscape, plus more than 1,000 shorter repeater stations. But Belmont has never been much of a tourist attraction. Indeed, its very unobtrusiveness seems to have sealed its fate in the end.

Rejecting the bid to keep Belmont, a spokesperson for English Heritage said: "Although the tower may be of local interest, there are a large number of transmitters in operation in Britain, some of them listed, which have greater architectural quality, evidence of structural or engineering innovation or historic significance."

The tower has been appreciated by some. One resident quoted in a local newspaper said: "We have restoration programmes trying to preserve pieces of our history from early Roman to the present day: works of art are preserved; museums keep artefacts from past industrial ages; but what about our technological age? Lincolnshire is not awash with technological masterpieces – for goodness sake, keep what you've got."

The last time the tower made the news was during a bitter storm in the winter of 1969 when its sister tower at Emley Moor, Yorkshire, collapsed. Most staff were evacuated from the transmission station at the base of Belmont as it leant five degrees to one side due to the weight of ice on its guy wires, but it survived.

The removal of the lattice section at the top of the tower and three of its 18 guy wires will not be a simple operation. A crew will have to climb up the core of the tower (there is a lift in the 9ft-wide tube but it will not be used) and a derrick and winch will have to be set up at the top. A helicopter may also be required.

The shortening is necessary because the new digital aerial is heavier than the old analogue equipment, and must begin lower down to prevent the tower keeling over.

The new transmitter is not due to take over until 2011, but Arqiva has left itself plenty of time in case poor weather forces it to delay completion of the project into next year. Tower-spotters are advised not to delay.