'Outdated' Television Centre will be sold off to cut costs

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The Independent Online

In what will be seen by some BBC staff as a telling symbol of a dark day in the history of the corporation, the director general, Mark Thompson will today announce the sale of the headquarters building, Television Centre.

The building, one of the most iconic broadcasting sites in the world, has been the home to classic programmes such as Monty Python's Flying Circus, Doctor Who and Blue Peter, which has its garden in the "TVC" grounds.

Most of all it is known as the home of BBC News, with national television and radio news output both emanating from this 1950s structure, which was designed by Graham Dawbarn and is shaped so that, from above, it looks like a question mark.

The sale of Television Centre, in Shepherd's Bush, west London, has been prompted by the availability of space in new BBC buildings, such as the Media Village and the refurbishment of Broadcasting House, the original home of the BBC in Portland Place. Several BBC departments, including sports, children's and Radio Five Live will also shortly be leaving Television Centre to relocate in Manchester. "Television Centre was built in the 1950s and just doesn't work in the new century," said one BBC source yesterday. "We've got too much property and the building is past its sell-by-date."

In a statement, the BBC Trust confirmed: "We have approved, in principle, the sale of Television Centre and have requested a more detailed strategy on the BBC's property portfolio."

Speculation about the building's future has swirled around TVC for several years. As early as 2004, reports were emerging about whether it was sustainable. back then, the BBC denied any threat was looming.

"The BBC's plan is to have three main centres in London, at Broadcasting House, White City and Television Centre," it said in a statement. The BBC reported in January that a "property review" – originally due to close at the end of the year – could conclude that the White City centre would have to close down.

The BBC news website reported that the review had been given "new focus" by the – then impending – licence fee settlement. It added that the closure was being made possible by the decision to move hundreds of BBC employees to Salford, Manchester.

At the time, a corporation spokesman said: "The aim of [the long-term strategy] is to cut costs and provide buildings suitable for digital broadcasting."

"As part of this, we are looking at the future role that Television Centre might be able to play over the coming decades.

"We are currently costing a wide range of options, including a major refurbishment of Television Centre.

"As always, value for money for licence fee payers will be a prime consideration. There's still a great deal of work to be done before any decision can be taken."

The move to Salford – expected in 2009 – will affect children's programmes, sport, Five Live and new media, while a reduced BBC News staff are due to transfer to Broadcasting House, in central London.

Meanwhile, the BBC's most recognisable base cut a sad silhouette across the west London skyline last night. Inside the village that is TVC – situated around the question-marked shaped circular block known to staffers affectionately as "the donut" – lies a garden, with a sculpture depicting Helios, the Greek god of the sun.

Designed by T B Huxley-Jones, it represents, according to the BBC "the radiation of television light around the world."

Some corporation employees – those that survive the job cuts at least - would be forgiven for reflecting ruefully that the BBC's light has dimmed a little with news of the impending demise of this very iconic base.

On the day of record numbers of job cuts from the BBC newsrooms, the corporation's staff will regard the selling-off of the famous old building as a sign of the passing of an era.

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