BBC’s 10 years at Salford Quays: a look back to its beginnings and forward to its future

It’s been a decade since the landmark arrival of the broadcaster at MediaCity - here is how things have changed.

BBC at MediaCityBBC at MediaCity
BBC at MediaCity

Derek recalls standing in the middle of the ‘vast expanse’ of Salford Quays sometime in the early 1980s, soon after the Manchester Docks had closed.

“Everything was demolished,” he said. “There was nothing as far as the eye could see.”

Beside him stood his colleague Ben Wallsworth – a fellow councillor in Salford who convinced the town hall to buy the ship canal and the docklands for £1m.

The two men turned to each other and said: ‘Gosh, what have we done?’

Speaking at his final council meeting before standing down earlier this year, Derek Antrobus was recounting some of the highlights of his 42-year career.

The departing councillor was talking about the regeneration of Salford Quays – a success story which has driven development in this new part of the city.

By the time the BBC moved to MediaCityUK – a 200-acre plot on Pier 9 of the Quays – The Lowry Theatre and Imperial War Museum had already been built.

Antrobus argues Salford Quays was already a success story before the BBC moved in – but he said the final piece of the puzzle had to be ‘spectacular’.

‘BBC was a game-changer for the area’

The broadcaster’s move was a ‘game-changer’ for the creative, digital and tech sectors – a catalyst for growth, creating thousands of jobs in Salford.

Salford swiftly became the BBC’s second largest site in terms of staff with the relocation of BBC Sport, Children’s, Radio 5 Live, BBC Philharmonic and BBC Learning to MediaCityUK following completion of the development in 2011.

And as the BBC celebrates 10 years at MediaCityUK, the portfolio of television and radio programmes which are now based in its studios continues to grow.

Salford will soon be the new home for Children in Need and Comic Relief while still broadcasting Breakfast, Match of the Day, Blue Peter and Dragon’s Den.

New shows on BBC 6 Music and Radio 1 will launch from Salford in September.

In fact, BBC Radio 3 and 6 Music will soon be rooted in the North with more than 50pc of their broadcasting hours coming from Salford’s MediaCityUK.

Under construction in 2007 at MediaCityUnder construction in 2007 at MediaCity
Under construction in 2007 at MediaCity

And this summer, Salford also stepped up as a sports broadcasting base for much of the coverage of Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics on the BBC.

Bridge House, Dock House and Quay House are now home to some 4,000 staff – and there are plans to invest more BBC money outside of London.

However, the BBC’s relocation to Salford was simply the start of the story.

Fuelling a boom in creative industries

A KMPG report commissioned by the broadcaster found that employment in Salford’s creative and digital sector has more than doubled in the last decade.

The number of digital or creative businesses in Salford is up by 70pc since 2010, rising from 565 to 955, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The BBC directly accounts for a third of this growth – but the rest is driven, at least in part, by the creative companies ‘clustering’ around the broadcaster.

Television broadcasting firm SIS moved its head office to MediaCityUK in 2012, ITV moved 700 staff to Salford the following year and Ericsson established a new broadcast and media service facility on site in 2016.

And the University of Salford opened a new media academy there in 2011.

By 2017, each job the BBC created, generated just over one more additional job in Salford’s creative sector, according to recent and ongoing research.

‘We can keep talent in the north now’

Stephen Wild, managing director of MediaCityUK, says the presence of the BBC kickstarted the creative cluster in Salford, ‘unlocking’ the kind of jobs which historically would have only been found on this scale in London.

“This has meant we can retain talent in the North and secure the growth of this exciting sector for the long term,” he said.

“The BBC’s commitment to MediaCityUK has without doubt placed Salford and Manchester on the national and international map and we’re proud to support the BBC with its ongoing expansion plans.”

Business is booming - but it’s not all equal

And it’s not just creative companies which have moved to Salford Quays.

Since 2017, for example, AJ Bell, Kelloggs and TalkTalk have also moved their headquarters to the Quays, with 3,000 jobs between them based in Salford.

But beyond the bright lights of the Quays, Salford is still a city of deep divides.

Despite a £1bn boom in the last decade, almost a third of Salford’s population live in ‘highly deprived’ areas and 10,500 people live in places of ‘extreme deprivation’ – some neighbouring those with the highest levels of growth.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many Salfordians are not able to access the new high-skilled, high-paid opportunities created in the city, a council report claims.

The initial move saw 2,100 BBC staff starting at the Salford site, with a third coming from London, a third from Manchester and a third being new hires.

In the first five years after the BBC’s move, much of MediaCityUK’s growth reflected the relocation of businesses from other areas, particularly from elsewhere in Greater Manchester, according to the Centre for Cities.

So rather than creating new jobs and moving opportunities to the North, some of the immediate growth was driven by what is described as ‘displacement’.

Nevertheless, the independent report recently commissioned by the BBC claims the regeneration of Salford Quays, MediaCityUK and the surrounding areas, together with continued inward invest, is responsible for rapid growth.

No doubt it has also contributed to the recent rise in Salford’s population – an 11.6pc increase between 2010 and 2020, compared to a 7.1pc rise nationally.

Antrobus says MediaCityUK has made Salford a more attractive place to live – and he believes that this has benefited the city beyond job opportunities alone.

BBC at MediaCityBBC at MediaCity
BBC at MediaCity

“People move to Salford because of Media City,” he said, “and if they get jobs there, that person helps the city in other ways.

“They will be creating their own demands, giving people the opportunity to create new businesses to meet those demands.”

Overall, 23,000 jobs have been created in Salford since 2010 and the level of economic activity generated in the city grew by £2.5bn – a 49 pc increase.

What the future holds

Over the next 10 years, MediaCityUK is set to double in size following a £1bn investment with the construction of 10 development plots already under way.

BBC England director Helen Thomas believes the benefits the broadcaster has brought to the region over the last decade have been ‘significant’.

“Our move to Salford was the catalyst for the development of MediaCityUK, which has provided thousands of jobs and pumped millions of pounds into the regional economy,” she said.

“We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved, and those significant benefits it has brought to the region over the last decade.

“And we’re hugely excited about our truly ambitious plans for the future.

“Building on the strengths of our brilliant base in Salford we will develop it into an even bigger and more successful hub for popular TV, digital and radio, business news, and arts and culture.”

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