Friday, November 07, 2008

GB3VHF to close next month

I'm really disappointed to have to pass on the following news, from Chris, G0FDZ regarding the forthcoming closure of the GB3VHF 2m beacon, next month. This is almost unthinkable! GB3VHF has been part of the VHF DX landscape for as long as I can remember. Whilst understanding the reasons for the closure, completely, I wonder how we can help get this valuable resource back on the air?

In the meantime, Chris - thank you for the marvellous service that GB3VHF has provided over the years.

Here is the full press release

After nearly fifty years of near continuous service from the
transmitting station at Wrotham in Kent (JO01DH), the 2 metre beacon
GB3VHF will fall silent towards the end of December 2008.

For a good few years the beacon enjoyed the site facilities at Wrotham
by means of a ‘peppercorn rent’. At this time the site was owned and
operated by the amateur radio friendly BBC.

During the 1990’s the site and facilities was acquired by Crown Castle
Transmission Ltd and around that time the RSGB were involved in
negotiations with site providers such as Crown Castle, NTL and Pye
Telecommunications Ltd, with regard to site sharing fees that the site
sharers thought more accurately reflected the true cost of accommodating
and providing mast sharing facilities for amateur radio equipment, such
as beacons and repeaters. At that time it was decided that ‘peppercorn
rents’ would cease and that site sharing costs would rise to meet a
substantial proportion of the commercial rate applicable at that time.
The rent increases were applied on an escalating scale and it was found
by many groups that the increases could not be met and consequently many
groups had to quit these sites. One example of this at the time was the
70cms repeater GB3NK which used to sit alongside GB3VHF. Once the site
rental had reached a certain level the Kent Repeater Group could not
afford to pay for any increases and so the repeater site sharing
agreement was terminated, and the repeater was removed from the site.
This story was a common feature of repeaters across the UK and most
keepers removed their units from these premier sites.

The RSGB continued to pay site rental for some beacons, which were
considered by the site owners at that time to be used for scientific
purposes (they still are!!). However, gradually the owners applied
greater site rental increases until such a time that the site rentals
became unsustainable. This is now the situation with GB3VHF and the
society has decided that they are not prepared to pay further increases
to the new site owners Arqiva Services. The RSGB have decided that
future site rentals would mean that the beacon keeper would have to pay
50% of the 2009 site rental and to pay 100% of the site rental in 2010.
As the figures involved are substantial, this is considered to be a
major expenditure and consequently not within the possibility of one
person (or even a group) to pay. One answer could be to seek donations
from users, but the task of achieving this on an annual basis and the
probability of not being able to achieve the required figure every year,
together with ever increasing annual costs make it a formidable task.
The financial liability would put the beacon keeper in a very risky
position indeed.

Another consideration which has led to the decision to close, has been
that of the problems with gaining access to the beacon site which have
been made very much more difficult during the past year. Extensive
security measures have been put into place by the site owner, thus
making ‘out of hours’ access a difficult process that cannot always be
guaranteed 24 hours a day. It is a licensing requirement that the beacon
can be closed down in an emergency at any time day or night.

These two major problems have led to the only viable decision, and that
is to cease operation of GB3VHF from the Wrotham site. This is very
regrettable as the beacon was completely modernised only two and a half
years ago and turned the beacon into one of the most advanced units of
its kind in the world.

The amateur radio community both in the UK and Europe have welcomed the
new beacon facilities such as it’s GPS locked on-air frequency accuracy,
on/off CW keying, JT65B and precise timing. Comments received have been
very favourable indeed, and I know that the beacon will be considered a
great loss to VHF users in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe.
During the last two and a half years the beacon has been received in
more than seventy locator squares and the greatest distance being
Tunisia in locator JM56HJ at 1849 kms.

As for the future, attempts will be made to secure a new viable and
sustainable site that may hopefully provide coverage similar to that
currently enjoyed. However, such sites that don’t involve enormous
rents, these days are very difficult to find, and it is likely that a
suitable site to relocate the beacon to will be some way off.

It is hoped that the beacon will return to the air in the future so that
an ‘old friend’ will once again be heard on 2 metres.

Chris Whitmarsh G0FDZ

Beacon Keeper GB3VHF

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Chris,
This is indeed sad news for the Amateur Radio fraternity and a comment that mammon rules everything whatever the benefit to society in general. We thank you and all involved in the operation and maintenance of GB3VHF now and in the past and we look forward to its possible reinstatement some time in the future. Perhaps you could look towards inviting the UK clubs to make an annual award towards the operation of the beacon.

73 de Terry G8ALR

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