How can Leeds benefit from Channel 4's move?
It goes without saying that Channel 4’s move to Leeds is a game changer for the city. The station’s investment in a new National HQ will bring circa 300 jobs to the city and provide huge opportunities for Yorkshire’s burgeoning media industry and people who live and work across the region.West Yorkshire Combined Authority estimates the move could create a further 1,200 jobs across the city-region and provide an economic boost of over £1bn in the next decade. Amongst a highly competitive field, the selection of Leeds as Channel 4’s new hub is a huge show of confidence for the whole city region.
However, reports in recent months have suggested some Channel 4 staff are reluctant to leave London for the bright lights of West Yorkshire. Clearly, they don’t know what they’re missing! Aside from the obvious benefits of outstanding areas of natural beauty, one of the best shopping experiences in Europe, some of the most sought after places to live and incredibly friendly folk, Leeds is currently one of the most exciting cities in Europe in which to live, work and play. The region is blessed with fascinating cultures, diversity and talents that are increasingly gaining national and international profile.
Over the last decade, the city’s culture, media and digital sectors have changed beyond recognition. Research carried out for Leeds’ Channel 4 bid showed employment in film and TV grew in Yorkshire 88% between 2009 and 2015, faster than any other region. The city is home to several of the UK’s most successful production companies, including UKTV (the brand behind digital station Dave) and Workerbee, which opened a new office in the city earlier this year. Meanwhile, Yorkshire’s unique combination of urban excitement, dramatic landscapes, cosmopolitan towns and rural tranquillity attracts dozens of film crews every year.
Nevertheless, Leeds cannot rest on its laurels now that Channel 4’s has arrived. We need to ensure all the necessary infrastructure is in place for the station to hit the ground running once it moves into the old Majestic building in 2020. Recent improvements to the local cycling network are the first step to making Leeds a more liveable and active city, which will assist in attracting and retaining employees. But the transport network still grinds to a halt too often, and further investment in bus lanes and rail infrastructure will be needed over the coming years. High speed broadband is equally important, and it is great to see fibre optic builder Cityfibre on site over the last couple of months as they deliver a modern, fit-for-purpose network for homes as well as businesses.
This infrastructure, together with the influence of Channel 4 has the potential to drive the creation of a range of production and office facilities that can support the continued growth of the media sector in the region as the relocation of the BBC has done in Salford. Mace has experience on production facilities of varying sizes, such as the Sharp digital media hub that is now home to more than 60 companies specialising in digital content, media, TV and film production and also ITV Coronation Street studios. Our experience shows that the provision of accessible, acoustically treated and well serviced ‘blank canvas’ production spaces that can be continuously reinvented as technology and production techniques evolve, are fundamental in providing a platform for the future growth in media.
To some, these preparations may seem overkill for the arrival of just one company. But Channel 4’s move to Leeds isn’t just about a TV station. It’s about demonstrating that Leeds is fit for the fourth industrial revolution and that this investment is a catalyst for further inward investment into the region. The ‘Channel 4 effect’ is happening. The region has already welcomed investment from five new digital businesses to the region, a sure sign of the opportunities and continued growth available.
As the lines between the physical and digital worlds blur, cities like Leeds will increasingly need to compete for resources and human capital. Launching West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Local Industrial Strategy earlier this year, local leaders acknowledged the need to keep the region at the forefront of research and innovation, to nurture future talent, and to invest in infrastructure.
All this, means attracting and retaining major brand names like Channel 4, Sky and Asda. It means building enough homes for a growing population. It means improving public transport and making Leeds a greener, more liveable city. If we get this right, bringing Channel 4 to Leeds won’t just be a boom to city’s media industry, but the catalyst of regeneration for years to come.