News Corp has abandoned plans to create a new "media campus" for all its UK operations and will sell its iconic Wapping site for redevelopment, the company announced yesterday.
Nicknamed "Fortress Wapping" after its role in the bitter industrial dispute triggered by Rupert Murdoch's move from Fleet Street in 1986, the site was home to The Sun, The Times, the News of the World and The Sunday Times for nearly 25 years.
Most staff had already moved off the site to rented offices nearby in preparation for the redevelopment and will now stay there for the "foreseeable future". But the decision to not to spend money on building, redeveloping or buying a new headquarters for its UK newspapers has sparked concern among staff about the company's commitment to the titles' long-term future.
There had been speculation that if News Corporation's bid to take full control of BSkyB had been successful then the rest of the company's assets might have been relocated to join the broadcaster in West London. That is now unlikely to happen in the short term at least.
"If they wanted to sell the newspapers it would be easier to do if they're not tied into an expensive property," said one employee. No one is saying that's going to happen but it does make people feel a little more nervous about the future."
News Corp announced in 2008 that it planned to create a "new campus" for its UK businesses, including News International, Harper Collins, MySpace, Dow Jones and Fox and envisaged the project would be completed in 2012. At the time, James Murdoch said that Wapping was not only important as a physical site, but as a symbol of how "bold individuals, working together, can advance the world of media and thereby contribute to life in Britain".
Amanda Levete Architects, the firm behind the redesign of the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham, was brought in to supervise the redevelopment which was to feature a "campus-type" complex complete with roof gardens, and an 18m-high atrium and shops. But within months the financial crisis meant the plans were put on hold.
Yesterday in a statement, the company said "current market conditions" led to a decision "not to proceed with remodelling the Wapping site".
It said: "The decision to sell the 15-acre site follows a review of News International's London property portfolio. The majority of News International's Wapping-based editorial and commercial staff have now relocated into Thomas More Square, with the remainder to be relocated by the end of 2011.
"Thomas More Square provides the company with excellent facilities and flexibility.
"As a result, and in light of current market conditions, News International has decided not to proceed with remodelling the Wapping site."