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News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

July 3, 2006 | 5 min read

Last month saw a severe case of premature congratulations in Salford, as corks popped, foam sprayed and a union was celebrated way before anyone definitively decided to get into bed together. As ever in these situations, it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

The congratulations in question were for the consortium behind the Salford Quays Mediacity:UK bid, who, according to the press, had secured the £400m BBC North relocation deal (Manchester Evening News June 15th: \"Salford today won the race to host the BBC’s new media zone\").

While the headlines weren’t deliberately spurious, they did demonstrate a bit of good old fashioned gun-jumping, seeing as the bid has not \"won the race\" but rather qualified in top spot, emerging, in the emotionally effusive words of the Beeb, as \"leading bidder in principle.\" Hardly the carte blanche to get jiggy with it that was broadly insinuated.

According to a statement from the governors there remains \"certain outstanding issues\" that need to be resolved before Mediacity can lay claim to the title of ‘preferred bidder’ over the competing Oxford Road-focused Central Spine proposal.

So, what exactly happens now? Is Salford poised to imminently get the rubber stamp it craves or is the sense of verisimilitude created by the pre-announcement announcement set to be just that, rather than the laying of concrete foundations?

In a bid to sort out the confusion we went straight to Auntie herself, or rather Hellen Martin, the communications head for the BBC North project. She was initially keen to stress that this was not a done deal:

\"We haven’t gone with them yet and I think that’s an important thing to get across,\" she said after several leading questions relating to why the Salford site had emerged victorious. \"This is not the final decision on the bid. We’re not home and dry yet and neither is Salford.\"

Obviously aware of the mixed messages reaching the media community and public, she continued: \"There was a lot of expectation around the governors last week (when they met to discuss the bids) and I think that a lot of people thought this might be the big decision. Inevitably now it’s been reported that that’s it and Salford have won, but basically that’s not the case.

\"There are some outstanding issues that they wish to have resolved and tomorrow (June 20th) talks will start with the Salford consortium to see if they can be. If the requests of the governors are met then Salford will become the preferred bidder.\"

Unfortunately for nosy buggers like myself these shadowy site issues remain exactly that for the time being. As ably demonstrated by Martin’s rebuff \"that’s confidential. Until we reach preferred bidder status we won’t be disclosing any of the details about the bid.\"

One of the only things that Martin can unequivocally comment on is that enthusiasm for the move (which won’t actually happen until 2010) is certainly not on the wane.

\"Nothing has changed since the initial announcement of the move in 2004. It’s still the same departments (for the uninitiated that’s BBC Sport, New Media, Formal Learning, Children’s BBC and Radio Five Live) and we’re still looking at the same budget and timescale.

\"This is all about the BBC looking to the future and we want this move to have a long lasting impact on both the organisation and the whole of the North of England. It reflects the importance to us of the communities outside of London.\"

Looking to the future also means opening the organisation up physically, a motivation that’s led to the much touted media village concept, or media city in Salford’s case.

\"I think what we’re trying to get away from is the BBC fortress style operational building, where we don’t have any interaction with either the media community or the public. We want to be more open, to interact and help create a creative buzz in the city and the region, alongside other independent companies, facilities providers and broadcasters.\" Something the 200-acre Mediacity site would certainly give them the space to achieve.

But before the staff from London and Oxford Road start clearing their desks in anticipation of the move, there’s another hurdle that needs to be vaulted: the government’s upcoming decision on the licence fee settlement. If that goes against the Beeb then the whole move is potentially stymied, meaning a hell of a lot of time and money has been pointlessly frittered away. Something Martin takes on the chin.

\"The whole project is still dependent on that decision,\" she accepted. \"It’s been indicated that the likelihood is we won’t know about that until the end of the year. With all that in mind it is difficult to say too much about the move right now. In some months time we’ll be able to talk much more freely about it.\"

All of which suggests that corks should certainly not have been popped midway through last month. By the time Mediacity’s ‘issues’ have been resolved, the governors are convinced of the value offered by the £400m move and the licence fee has finally been agreed upon Salford’s champagne may well have gone flat. If, that is, they’re in the mood to drink it at all.

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