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Eastern opportunity for Channel 4

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30 May 2018

In an article published earlier today by Broadcast magazine Andrew Sheldon from True North highlighted the opportunity Leeds City Region offers to Channel 4 ahead of the shortlist announcement by the broadcaster for its new national headquarters.

Tomorrow, we will know who has made the cut in the run in to host Channel 4. Now it’s on to the play-offs, with all the shortlisted places having various ‘D’ words associated with the bidding process - diversity, digitally disruptive, distinctive – at the front of their thinking.

And now there’s a new ‘D’ expression to add: ‘double down’, the argument that bolstering existing ‘creative clusters’ is the way forward.

I know that TV has more than its fair share of right-thinking, liberally-minded people who will recognise this as a ‘Reverse Jeremy’: once again, it’s ‘for the few, not the many’.

It’s no surprise to hear this argument coming from the west. You can see that the national HQ moving to Bristol would be great news - if you work in Bristol, or maybe even Cardiff. But if you live in Newcastle, well, that’s just short of 500 kilometres and a six-hour drive away.

It’s also fair to ask what difference C4 could make, with its stated ambition to do something exciting and transformative – 150 jobs alongside the 3,000-plus currently shared by the BBC and ITV in Salford and Manchester. How ‘born risky’ would that be?

‘Risky’ would be to come to the east of the Pennines where, rather than being simply additive, they would be the spark in a new adventure. Newcastle, Gateshead, and Sheffield all have a good case to make, despite having only a handful of fully-functioning production companies between them.

And the Leeds city region, which includes not just Leeds but Britain’s fastest growing Asian city in Bradford and Britain’s official ‘best place to live’ in York, provides an amazing opportunity to galvanise a huge and ambitious young workforce.

Leeds alone is double the size of Glasgow and almost triple the size of Bristol and the west of England combined. Yorkshire as a whole – so loved by commissioners across all the channels – has a population bigger than Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (and we’d have beaten all of them at the Olympics!) and yet has no network broadcaster presence outside of ITV’s Emmerdale studios.

The nations have rightly won the argument that not only should they seethemselves portrayed on screen, but they should also share in the cultural and economic benefits of producing those programmes and play host to national broadcasters. So why doesn’t that apply to the whole of the east of England, where a quarter of the population live?

Doubling down in the existing creative clusters, all of which are on the west of the country, would simply reinforce the very status quo that C4’s move is intended to break.