THE torrential rain did its best to dampen last night’s celebration to mark the BBC’s £250m move to Salford’s Media City.
Suffice to say, after my tram broke down one stop short – I might as well have jumped into the water off Salford Quays.
But there was a glow of bright optimism on the faces of the 200 guests who gathered for a slice of the future on a soundstage at The Pie Factory.
Standing on the edge of the Media City site in Salford Quays, the TV production complex – as the name suggests – is based in an old factory.
But as managing director Andy Sumner said: “Personally, I see The Pie Factory as the start of Media City, the first green shoots.
“We’re the first part of a story that will see the transformation of this site over the next five years.”
BBC director-general Mark Thompson (pictured above at last night’s event) met staff at his Oxford Road HQ before going on to the official launch of Media City.
The BBC move will be the first phase of the development and occupy around a quarter of the site.
It will be joined by other media and technology companies, creating the biggest broadcasting and media centre outside London.
Mark had some interesting things to say on what was a highly significant night in the history of Greater Manchester.
There’s a story in today’s MEN. But, with apologies for the longer than usual blog entry, I thought you might want to read a little more.
He told me: “I felt very inspired by the conviction and the passion that we found here and the scale of vision.
“And that’s the reason we’re here.
“It’s partly economics, partly, of course, looking at whether the deal made sense and all the rest of it.
“But the heart of it was, I met a group of people here, I got a sense of a wider community here, who felt this could be transformational for the BBC, but also for Salford and for the whole of Greater Manchester.
“That’s a very powerful idea and I personally feel very proud and privileged to have been able to link up with that and be part of it.”
Earlier in the day Mark had told a House of Lords committee that a further round of BBC job cuts was on the way after the below inflation licence fee deal.
But he had also made clear that the 2011 move to Salford of five London-based departments and 1500 staff posts was not affected.
“We are fully committed to Salford. In the long run Salford makes sense for the BBC,” he told the peers.
But surely, I asked him, the five departments coming to Media City would not be immune from job cuts? So would that 1500 figure reduce?
“We’re currently in the middle of looking at everything the BBC does to see whether we can figure out ways of becoming more productive and more efficient in ways which mean we can do more,” he replied.
“But it’s because we want to do more.
“I believe, whatever happens, the scale of what we’re going to move to Salford will be as big as I’ve said.
“So even if we’re making some adjustments around the place, I’m committed to making sure that the scale of the move is as big as we talked about.”
Last year Mark said of the move: “Could it be bolder still? I hope to look at ways of making it bigger.”
Could there eventually be an even bigger BBC presence at Media City?
“I think over the next couple of years we should look at whether there’s more we should base here,” he replied.
Earlier he told The Pie Factory audience: “I’ve worked for the BBC for more than 25 years, off and on.
“And over that time, I’ve been involved in commissioning and in trying to do deals and form partnerships with people all of the UK and, I think, on pretty much every continent around the world.
“Nowhere…nowhere, have I come across the particular intensity of utter passion, conviction, belief, talent and energy that we found in this dialogue with Salford.
“We feel very proud and privileged to be coming and joining you.
“It’s an amazing place.”
He revealed some of the background – and how it might have been easy for him to shelve the whole project, or reduce it in scale, after the departure of former director general Greg Dyke
“I arrived as director general of the BBC three years ago.
“And although the idea of a really big new broadcast centre in Manchester had already arrived, by the time I got there most people were saying to me, ‘You don’t have to do it.
“’Greg’s gone, everything’s up in the air. Are you sure, in terms of all that fantastic talent in London? In terms of the cost and the complexity? Are you sure?
“’Why not do half of it, or don’t do it at all?’
“And one of the things that I feel pleased with is that over the last three years, over what, inevitably – this is life at the BBC – has been interesting political times, with our partners, we’ve kept the idea of a really bold vision for what we could do.
“We’ve kept that alive. And, in fact, the proposition today of what the BBC could do, the numbers of people, the scale of operation, the departments, is, if anything, slightly bigger than the vision we had three years ago.
“And I think it’s possible that over the next four years it’s going to grow further.”
Mark (pictured below right overlooking the Media City site last November) explained: “We had our vision, we had our idea of what could happen here, and something very interesting happened in the process.
“Salford came up with an idea which was, in many ways, much bigger than we’d thought about but which ticked all the boxes for us, and offered us much more.
“This notion of the BBC getting a very significant foothold, itself, and a fantastic broadcast centre. Itself – but also, potentially, being the catalyst to something bigger happening at Salford Quays, I think is a brilliant idea.
“It’s an idea which potentially is one of the most exciting media projects in the world.”
He added: “I hadn’t thought that Salford was likely to be a front-runner.”
But the “scale of ambition” and vision demonstrated by developer Peel Holdings and its partners won him over.
BBC Sport, Radio Five Live, BBC Children’s, BBC Children’s Learning and parts of Future Media and Technology will move to Media City in 2011.
The go ahead was given in January with final legal contracts signed at the end of last month, confirming the details under which the BBC will occupy three buildings at their new waterfront city base.
“In a way, what we’re marking tonight is not the end of anything but the start of something,” Mark concluded.
“It’s real, it’s going to happen, we’ve pressed the green button and it’s all about to start.”
*ITV Granada has yet to decide whether to move to Media City or stay on its current Quay Street site in Manchester.
I asked Mark if the BBC would still welcome Granada as neighbours.
“Of course,” he smiled. “Our move to Salford makes sense for us, and I believe that MediaCity:UK will be a success whether or not ITV comes.
“We’re rivals but also very good friends with ITV.
“They’ve got a great heritage in this part of the world and nobody would be happier than us is they came to join us.”
BBC Media City Move
Earning A Crust In Salford
The Pie Factory