BBC to upgrade Belfast base in plan to be less London-centric

Newsnight will sometimes be presented from city, while commissions from North will rise

The BBC will proceed with plans to upgrade its broadcast centre in Belfast and Newsnight will sometimes be presented from the city as part of a decentralisation plan announced this morning.

The UK public service broadcaster said it would double the number of commissions from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales that appear on its UK-wide channels to better reflect the lives and communities of audiences outside London. This will create new commissioning roles in the North.

It also said it would renew its long-standing partnership with development agency Northern Ireland Screen to help strengthen the local production base, “prioritising the creative pipeline for returning series across genres”.

The BBC already produces one of its biggest dramas, Line of Duty, in Belfast, though it is not set there, while earlier this week it said the James Nesbitt-starring police drama Bloodlands would return for a second series.

The broadcaster said that alongside Northern Ireland Screen and the Northern Ireland Executive it would explore proposals to provide apprenticeships and training programmes for “a diverse range of younger entrants to the industry”.

Under the six-year plan, some 60 per cent of UK-wide television commissions will come from outside London, while 50 per cent of network radio and music spending will be outside London by 2027-2028.

The BBC received planning approval for the redevelopment of Broadcasting House on Ormeau Avenue from Belfast City Council in February 2020, with funding of £77 million (€90 million) previously earmarked for the revamp. The site first opened in 1941 and its studio facilities were expanded in the 1970s and 1980s.

BBC Northern Ireland is led by director Peter Johnston, while former RTÉ executive Eddie Doyle is head of content commissioning.

Current affairs

The BBC said its BBC Two current affairs flagship programme Newsnight will be presented from different bases throughout the year – including Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester – to "represent the range of issues across the UK better".

It added that it had already seen a difference from the basing of its 5 Live radio station in Salford since 2011 and BBC Northern Ireland's contribution to current affairs strand Panorama.

The Radio 4 Today programme will also come from outside London at least 100 times a year.

The decentralisation push, titled the BBC Across the UK, will see jobs move out of the British capital, with Salford becoming the main base for its digital and technology teams and BBC Studios bases in Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow expanding.

"We need to do more if we are to stay relevant and represent a UK that is changing fast, and where too many big editorial and creative choices are still rooted in just one part of the UK," BBC director-general Tim Davie told employees on Thursday morning.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics