Handing over the keys (even if just temporarily) to BBC Television Centre at the end of March was a major event for the BBC. There was understandably a lot of emotion surrounding our departure. And it was a great opportunity to celebrate all the great programming we have produced from what will remain a pioneering and unforgettable building. It’s a reminder of how the BBC is always at the forefront of broadcasting – in our buildings as much as in our technology and our creativity – and a reminder also of just how important our working environment is for what we do.
Understandably buried in some of the reporting around our departure was the story of why we left the building. Leaving TVC, while sad, represents a major milestone in the BBC’s journey towards a more efficient and flexible property estate. And it’s one of the steps we are taking to make sure the BBC’s working environment helps release the creativity in all of us. I want to use this opportunity to tell you a bit more about all this work.
But first, a bit of background: 10 years ago, the BBC owned a large property estate. It was costly to run and in need of significant refurbishment to meet the rapid advances taking place in production methods and digital technology. Today, the BBC is two-thirds of the way through a programme that has already achieved a great deal. We have updated 60 per cent of our buildings; we’ve created state of the art broadcast centres in Scotland, Wales and Salford; we’ve transformed Broadcasting House in central London into a state of the art broadcasting centre housing 6,000 staff and bringing all of the BBC’s news operations (including BBC News and the World Service) under one roof for the first time; and we’ve protected the legacy of Television Centre while still delivering more than £200m, even before accounting for the significant savings on running costs, to be reinvested in the BBC. In due course, the 17 buildings we used to own in London will be reduced to two key hubs - W12 in west London and W1 in central London.
The upshot of all this is that we will reduce the amount of property the BBC owns by 40 per cent. That’s good news for licence fee payers because it means we will save a significant £47m a year by 2017.
So what will happen to Television Centre? Well, as was reported, we will remain very much part of the buildings future. We will be working in partnership with developer Stanhope to ensure the legacy of the building is protected. BBC Studios & Post Production will reopen on the site in 2015 – you can read a blog by CEO Anna Mallett here – and BBC Worldwide will occupy its new headquarters there from autumn 2014. Not only that, but we have ambitious plans to open the site for the public in a way that was never possible before. We want to build on its history and the shows produced there. We want better facilities and attractions to audiences coming to see future shows recorded from its iconic studios.
And what about the rest of our London estate? The move to new Broadcasting House was delivered on time and on budget, and has received widespread praise as a great example of a well-run BBC project. It showed BBC Operations at its best – close working between BBC Technology and BBC Workplace, and great collaboration with all the divisions involved. The team responsible should feel justifiably proud. Not only does this move feed the significant savings set out above, but the new technology and increased collaboration between teams is having a really positive impact, on and off air.
Outside of London we have a hugely positive story to tell. We have delivered new buildings across England - including the Mailbox in Birmingham, Leeds, Norwich, and Cambridge. Not forgetting the landmark home of BBC North in MediaCity, which is now a major creative hub with around 2,400 people. It has attracted other creative organisations to Salford, and acted as a real catalyst for regeneration.
In Scotland, we have Pacific Quay – the first digital end-to-end broadcasting centre in the UK. In Wales, Roath Lock – which is the BBC’s new drama village in Cardiff – was one of the quickest, major BBC builds. And it’s already producing some of the UK’s best-loved drama including Casualty and, of course, Doctor Who.
As Director of Operations, I believe passionately that our working environment plays a massive role in helping us to be a more creative organisation. So whilst it’s right that we should feel nostalgic for our great past in Television Centre, these developments mean we also have every reason to feel positive and confident about our future.
I am keen to hear your thoughts about how we can improve and provide a better service, so please get in touch with me with your thoughts and suggestions.
Update - 26 April, 2013
There have been reports of a campaign to preserve all of the studios at Television Centre. We understand the effect the sale of Television Centre has had, but we have to balance the best option for the BBC Group and the licence fee payer. The three guiding principles behind the sale of TVC were preserving the legacy of this iconic site, identifying a developer with proven capabilities to deliver major redevelopment projects and secure financing, and maximising the value of the site for licence fee payers. The BBC and its commercial subsidiary, BBC Studios and Post Production, looked at great length at how the sale of Television Centre could deliver best value and what its portfolio of studios should be. Together we concluded that a footprint preserving the legendary Studios 1 , 2 and 3 at the redeveloped Television Centre, combined with BBC Studios and Post Production's facilities in Elstree and Bristol would represent the best overall position for the BBC. Whilst Television Centre is being redeveloped, BBC Studios and Post Production is continuing to offer HD studios at Elstree and Bristol, where it will make BBC shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Pointless in the famous George Lucas stage and revamped Stages 8 and 9, as well as programmes for independent production companies like Deal or No Deal and A League of Their Own.
Dominic Coles is Director of Operations, BBC