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Four Reasons Why Channel 4 Decided Against Birmingham

Channel 4's HQ at 124 Horseferry Road, Westminster

So the dream has ended. Channel 4 will take its national HQ to Leeds, and creative hubs to Glasgow and BristolDespite high hopes that a relocation to Birmingham was all-but assured, the publically owned broadcaster opted to look elsewhere. Mayor Andy Street said he was "depressed and cross," the BBC reported.

The dust is still settling, and the full story is yet to be told, but four factors appear to have played a part in the decision.

1. Friendly Faces Had Been Moved

The Channel 4 relocation bid was initiated by Midlands MP Karen Bradley when she was Culture Secretary. But Bradley, member of Parliament for Staffordshire Moorlands, was reshuffled to become Northern Ireland Secretary in January. Earlier in the process another big avocate of a Midlands relocation was shuffled off the scene: Nick Timothy, joint chief of staff to Prime Minister Theresa May was said to be responsible for the manifesto committment to relocate Channel 4. The Birmingham-born (and King Edward VI Grammar School educated) Timothy left Downing Street immediately after the 2017 general election. Without these two key advocates Birmingham's bid was no longer in pole-position.

2. Nobody Likes To Feel Bounced

Despite the departure of Brady and Timothy, the political pressure for Birmingham was still strong. A Conservative government wanted to support Andy Street, a Conservative West Midlands mayor. But Channel 4 bosses guard their independence and the mere fact of a political presumption in favour of Birmingham could have been enough to prompt them to look elsewhere. The same pressure probably counted against Manchester, famed for its expertise in wielding political pressure.

3. Not Different Enough

Channel 4 was looking for three cities. One of the two "creative hubs" was always likely to go to Scotland or Wales. One would go to a city with a strong independent creative base (Bristol or Cardiff or Liverpool).  That left one English option in play and if Channel 4 wanted to make a statement, they needed somewhere striking. The trouble with Birmingham (and Manchester) is that they are both predictable options, and both are carving successful creative clusters already. Leeds is a bit different, has a strong digital sector (which mattered to Channel 4), and would make Channel 4 more conspicuous because the city's broadcast sector is relatively small: therefore Leeds.

4. Because Property

In the end, property may have been the biggest issue. As a Lambert Smith Hampton analysis published long before the decision shows, Leeds property is a lot cheaper. "For a new-build office totalling 30K SF with 300 staff, the above equates to an annual cost of £11.66M in Manchester/Salford, £10.96M in Birmingham and £9.35M in Leeds. Over a period of five years, the effective ‘saving’ from being located in one of the shortlisted cities as opposed to London’s Westminster amounts to £35.8M in Manchester/Salford, £39.3M in Birmingham and £48M in Leeds," the report said.

This massive cost saving need not come at the price of entering a provincial backwater, because the Leeds office market is doing very well. In fact, it is doing better than Birmingham. Leeds scored take-up of more than 1M SF in 2017 and seems set to repeat the performance in 2018. Take-up in Leeds in the first half of 2018 was 589K SF, a third above the 10 year average, also out-pacing Birmingham.