William Cook

Northern lights | 8 October 2011

Those BBC refuseniks will rue the day they passed up the chance to relocate to Salford, England’s new cultural capital, says William Cook

Those BBC refuseniks will rue the day they passed up the chance to relocate to Salford, England’s new cultural capital, says William Cook

Standing on the roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North, staring at the shiny new buildings down below, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Hamburg or Berlin. There’s the same futuristic skyline, the same glint of glass and metal. There’s even a sleek modern tram, snaking between the shops and cafés along the quay. But this isn’t a continental conurbation — this is Salford. The improbable renaissance of this unloved city sums up England’s biggest schism, not between black and white or rich and poor, but between north and south.

When the BBC chose Salford Quays as the site for its new Media City, you could hear the howls of protest all the way from Shepherd’s Bush to Notting Hill Gate. For a certain sort of telly exec, holed up in BBC TV Centre in White City, the idea of relocating anywhere north of Hampstead felt akin to internal exile in Siberia. Some declined to move, others needed coaxing. The ensuing debate divided the muesli-eating classes: in the red corner, as the press portrayed it, pampered producers and presenters whose cultural horizons stretched no further than the M25; in the blue corner, bitter hacks like me who could only dream of being paid to leave London for a city where a decent house costs half the price.

Eventually, some 700 BBC employees opted to move from London (just over half of those they asked). They’ll be joined by about 700 colleagues from BBC Manchester, just down the road. The vacant posts (about 1,000, making this the biggest relocation of its kind) have been filled by external applicants — no such qualms about Salford from hardened jobseekers outside the BBC’s west London bubble.

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