This week the last occupants of the BBC’s Media Centre building in Media Village, West London are moving out as part of wider plans to reduce the cost of its properties by £75 million a year.
Andrew Fullerton currently Planning Manager in BBC Workplace was one of the first people to work in the Media Centre in January 2004. Here he reflects on the story of this development, the first physical realisation of the BBC’s property strategy.
In the late 1990s, as Principal Architect, I was working in the BBC team considering how to transform the tired corporate estate and how to fund the process without increasing the amount of licence fee income spent on buildings. A plan for how our estate would look in 2020 emerged and the site at White City became the first in a chain of new developments across the country to deliver modern, adaptable workplaces for staff that were more welcoming to audiences, fit for 21st century broadcasting and represented value for money.
Media Village, which comprises Media Centre and Broadcast Centre and three other smaller buildings, was also the first development by the BBC Property Partnership with Land Securities which enabled the corporation to achieve its property vision at no additional cash cost to licence fee-payers.
Design and Planning
In 2000, distinguished architects Allies and Morrison were appointed to design the new buildings. On the advice of our Property Partners, it was the first time that BBC buildings were designed to universal BCO (British Council for Offices) commercial standards rather than to bespoke BBC requirements. This was anticipating a future scenario – since realised - where the BBC might wish to share or vacate the building and another organisation would be sought as tenant or owner.
By then I was working for BBC Property, forerunner to BBC Workplace, as Head of Environmental Planning, developing a planning strategy with the architects. The objectives of the site master plan were to maximise the development potential of the site; and provide a publicly accessible, attractive and secure environment which would play a central role in the regeneration of the wider urban area. As well as the new office buildings, the plans also included shops, cafes, a post office and a supermarket open to both local residents and BBC staff centred around a main landscaped public boulevard.
This was the first time the BBC had opened up its site to the public and the first time the BBC had engaged directly in consultations with the residential communities in White City through a monthly Community Liaison Group chaired by a local resident.
Another important consideration of the planning and design teams was environmental performance and Media Centre was the first BBC building to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating - the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, which assesses the environmental impact of buildings. As part of this we were one of the first organisations in the country to develop a Green Travel Plan for staff which was quickly established as exemplary and adopted by other BBC sites.
Construction and Occupation
Building work started in September 2001 and the site was officially opened in May 2004. The first occupants of the Media Centre were mainly non-broadcast divisions decanted from central London to make way for the redevelopment of Broadcasting House.
Many arrived disgruntled at having to leave their W1 postcode for what many perceived to be the cultural desert of White City, but most were quickly won over by the quality of the working environment and the ever improving accessibility and local amenities.
The light and airy office spaces with large social areas helped to encourage staff interaction and stimulate creativity. The outside public spaces, which included public artworks and landscaped gardens by award-winning landscape architect Christopher Bradley-Hole, were used for free public events for the whole community. The first of these was the White City Summer Festival which ran from May to September 2004 and featured music, street theatre and big screens showing sporting events such as Euro 2004, Wimbledon Tennis Championships and the Olympic Games.
Despite not being designed for studios, the flexibility of the new building was successfully tested when BBC programmes Watchdog and Rogue Traders broadcast live from the ground floor. The building was adapted further when BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial subsidiary, relocated to the Media Centre in 2008.
Sale of site
The Media Village served the BBC well during our tenure there, but our strategy has now reached the point where, with New Broadcasting House and MediaCIty UK in full operation, we are able to take the next steps.
So for the last few months I have been working with the team that negotiated the deal to sell and sublet Media Village, saving the BBC £33 million in annual running costs. Important efficiency savings the corporation needed to make. Media Centre will soon undergo a full refurbishment before being brought back to the market from late 2016 for new tenants to occupy and make use of its flexible space.
With the BBC still occupying three buildings on site, it is gratifying that the original objectives for Media Village, soon to be known as White City Place, will live on and continue to be a thriving and lively area where creative industries can flourish alongside the local community.