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Mark Casci: Why Leeds is the perfect destination for Channel Four

Channel 4 will not be coming to Sheffield.
Channel 4 will not be coming to Sheffield.
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Following a self-imposed two week sabbatical from social media (timed to coincide with my holiday) I was delighted to see one of the first pieces of information that Twitter delivered to my phone was the tremendous news that Leeds had made the shortlist for the Channel 4’s second headquarters.

The broadcaster is to relocate 300 jobs from the capital, with Leeds now in the final three cities in the running to welcome them.

30 May 2018......  The city of Leeds shortlisted foir the new HQ for Channel 4.'Sally Joynson (Screen Yorkshire) Suman Hanif (film maker), Roger marsh (chair Leeds City Region), Dave-O (musical artist), Andrew Sheldon (True North). Picture Tony Johnson.

30 May 2018...... The city of Leeds shortlisted foir the new HQ for Channel 4.'Sally Joynson (Screen Yorkshire) Suman Hanif (film maker), Roger marsh (chair Leeds City Region), Dave-O (musical artist), Andrew Sheldon (True North). Picture Tony Johnson.

The competition comes in the form of Manchester and Birmingham, with the Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol, as well as the two cities that miss out on the main headquarters, also in the mix for two smaller creative hubs due to be set up by the broadcaster.

The news was tinged with sadness that Sheffield’s bid failed to make the final list. Its bid was compelling and impressive. But alas it was not to be.

Channel Four is demonstrably taking the process very seriously. It has been clear in terms of what it wants, setting out a criteria that its potential second home must offer a sizeable population, a journey time to London of no more than three hours and a physical and digital infrastructure to meet its business requirements.

Quite clearly, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester all offer these but, for me, the Yorkshire city is the clear pick of the bunch.

30 May 2018......  The city of Leeds shortlisted for the new HQ for Channel 4.' Andrew Sheldon (True North). Picture Tony Johnson.

30 May 2018...... The city of Leeds shortlisted for the new HQ for Channel 4.' Andrew Sheldon (True North). Picture Tony Johnson.

In terms of infrastructure, both in terms of digital an transport, it has the best case.

Unlike most UK cities, Leeds has its internet exchanges based in the city centre, offering hyper-fast broadband to those in situ. It is also bang in the middle of the country. Train links to the capital are very good, with services running frequently throughout the day.

The relocation process also comes at a time when media in general is under intense scrutiny over the make-up of its workforce.

Last year Ofcom told the broadcasting industry that it needed to improve the diversity of its workforce after a major study identified shortfalls in the number of women, ethnic-minority groups and disabled people it employed.

In particular Ofcom’s Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report, said that the likes of the BBC and Channel 4, had too few people from minority groups working on and off screen, something it said was “creating a cultural disconnect between the people who make programmes and the millions who watch them”.

Moving to Leeds could solve this problem at a stroke. The Leeds City Region in general is very young and incredibly diverse. Right next door is the city of Bradford, the youngest in the country and brimming with intelligent and forward thinking youngsters looking at what to do with their lives.

Now I am not so naïve as to say that London, nor any of Leeds’s competitors do not have diverse work forces but the combination of the young workforce, combined with the above for me makes it the obvious choice.

Salford in Manchester has performed very well in its handling of the relocation of BBC functions and the move has played a key role in ensuring a less centralised media. However why risk repeating the same mistake by making Manchester the preferred location for broadcasting north-shoring?

Support for the Leeds bid is not confined to this region. Its suitability for the relocation has been backed by planning and design specialists Barton Willmore, who released data showing that Leeds’s university links, volume of jobs and relative specialisms across the creative media industry made it among the front runners.

My understanding is that business and civic leadership in Leeds have told Channel Four the can relocate their roles wherever they want in the city.

For my money the South Bank, with its great infrastructure links to Leeds Station and the motorway network, is the perfect location and Channel Four could be at the heart of kickstarting the regeneration process in earnest.

Leeds would provide an exciting and opportunity-filled home for Channel Four’s future.

As with its Capital of Culture bid it has put together an inspiring case.

And it is now time for the whole of the region to get behind it.