Digital TV proposal for city flats

RICHARD BALLS Thousands of people living in blocks of flats across Norwich are to join the world of digital and satellite television before the great analogue switch-off.

RICHARD BALLS

Thousands of people living in blocks of flats across Norwich are to join the world of digital and satellite television before the great analogue switch-off.

Complaints have flooded into the city council from residents of high-rise blocks and maisonettes who rely on communal aerials and cannot get digital reception, even if they go out and buy set-top boxes.

Now the council is gearing up to consult tenants and leaseholders about a leasing option scheme which could end the long-running problem and give them access to Sky TV for only up to £1 a week more.

All high rise blocks across the city such as those in Mile Cross, the Heartsease, Lakenham, and Normandie Tower in Rouen Road, will be affected by the move, as well as smaller developments of flats.

Hereward Cooke, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, welcomed the plans, which will affect 9,900 properties - 53 pc of its entire housing stock - and have a huge impact on tenants.

Most Read

"It covers a substantial part of the city and no ward is going to be left untouched by this," he said.

"It will help tenants to be more digitally aware. They will be able to use their TV sets in conjunction with computers in the future in terms of receiving so much more information and using facilities."

Frustration among tenants over digital and satellite TV access is a nationwide problem, with 20pc of homes receiving television signals through communal aerials which cannot provide a service now being enjoyed by 63pc of UK properties.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says that 95pc of local authorities and 74pc of registered social landlords own or manage properties with communal TV systems.

And a survey showed that 37pc of councils and 50pc of registered social landlords had made no start towards improving their aerial systems.

This means that ahead of the switch- off of the analogue system it will be increasingly difficult for landlords to find aerial contractors with a good track record of installing digital television distribution systems and that the industry will face a skills shortage.

In East Anglia, the analogue system - through which people currently receive BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - will be switched off in favour of digital transmission, and existing communal aerials will no longer deliver a signal.

As Freeview set-top boxes can be bought for as little as £30 and most new televisions have a built-in digital capacity, more and more tenants are urging the council to let them join the digital revolution.

The cost to the council of providing access to Sky would be £1,922,500 (£194 per home), while the bill for Sky+ would be £2,170,000 (£220 per home).

Mr Cooke said that an outright purchase cost of the system would be "out of the question" for the authority when there were more pressing needs and instead it plans to lease the upgraded service.

Members of the council's executive committee meet on Wednesday to discuss the plans.