Why the BBC must stay in Cardiff

Posted by Dr John Jewell

Cardiff Bay
Where in Cardiff could the next headquarters of BBC Wales be?

Yesterday morning I appeared on the BBC Radio Wales Sunday Supplement programme. The subject under discussion was the intention of BBC Wales to leave its Llandaff base in Cardiff – the channel’s home for nearly 50 years – to relocate to an as yet unnamed site by 2018, probably staying in the Cardiff area.

Moving from Llandaff appears to be a necessity. Martin Shipton, writing in the Western Mail quoted Anne Bulford, managing director of BBC Operations and Finance, who said: “We believe these exciting proposals could significantly strengthen BBC Wales’ role as the national broadcaster for Wales whilst also opening up new and exciting opportunities for the wider creative and media sector in Wales.

“The ageing infrastructure at Llandaff is clearly reaching the end of the road – and it is time to look to the future.”

I think everybody accepts the reality of relocation. The digital media landscape has changed everything and Wales needs a strong, vibrant and technically equipped BBC.  That said, it’s the decision to remain in Cardiff which has been met with disappointment and disapproval by some.

Also appearing on Sunday Supplement was MP for Ogmore, Huw Irranca-Davies. Huw argued passionately that Wales was a ‘big, bold country’ and that the BBC needed to be more representative of the nation. Why, Huw argued, couldn’t the relocation be to North Wales or to Aberystwyth or Llanelli?

I do have some sympathy for those commentators who state that Welsh culture and politics has undergone a process of ‘Cardiffisation’.  At the same time, I believe that the BBC’s main headquarters must stay in Cardiff.

Put simply, the BBC has not only to be visible and operational in the nation’s capital city – it has to sit alongside the national institutions of government and the arts because it is a national institution itself. On behalf of the population it serves it must be at the heart of Welsh life.

Cardiff is a truly international city with global connections. Its thriving business and creative environment attracts investment the world over. Would the BBC really be best serving itself or the license payer if it withdrew and went to Aberystwyth, for example?  Would prominent figures from politics, sport and entertainment be willing, or indeed able, to get there if necessary? Would BBC Wales News be able to get its finest and best equipped reporters down to Cardiff at a moment’s notice if its main headquarters were in North Wales?

Much has been made of the ‘central’ BBC’s move the Media City in Salford in 2011. Couldn’t the same sort of thing be possible in Wales? No, is the short answer to that.  Wales is not England – Greater Manchester has a population of 2, 700,000 – near enough to the total of Wales itself – with an international reputation, media presence airport and rail links. This is what Cardiff, and no other Welsh city, already has. Also, it is not as if Salford has replaced London as the BBC’s centre. Rather, it complements London.

When the BBC relocates in 2018 it must remain in Cardiff whilst continuing to honour its commitment to its other production bases in Carmarthen, Bangor, Wrexham and Aberystwyth. It must continue to work with other creative industries and to develop Wales’ global standing. It must analyse, scrutinise and hold to account those who wield power and the institutions they represent. It can only, in my view, do these things properly and effectively with it its main location in the capital city.