For quite a while now the future home of BBC R&D has been in the balance. Kingswood Warren has rung to the sound of jolly and not so jolly engineers for 60 years, but the decision was made to sell it off some years ago, and the ink dried on that deal in 2008- we have to leave by March 2010 at the latest.
Sad though it will be to leave behind the acres of fields, the woods, the deer and the delightful architecture, the greatest stress has been getting to grips with the real practicalities of getting a new base of opperations sorted out. Facilities of the type needed to support a 21st century research lab don't come cheap, or quick, so a future home needed sorting out and urgently.
All this is happining against the background of shifting a significant proportion of research to the north west of course. In that area there has been greater reason to be optimistic- Media City development is continuing apace (I was up there last month, and the buildings are hurtling up). Even before we occupy the brand new space on Salford Quays, the R&D dept has secured an excellent interim lab space on the current Oxford Road campus, current home of BBC Manchester. In fact it looks like there's going to be sufficient staff relocating to that new lab to form a good core- a 'critical mass'- for the future of the team there. Rowan De Pomerai is doing an excellent series of posts as he works on the spec for the interim and long term establishments up there (plus occasional diversions explaining how he comes to be slightly the worse for ware- it's not all work work work up there!), and of course Ian Forrester is blogging on that work from the BBC Backstage and his own personal points of view.
Now at last we have reason to be optimistic in the South too, as last week the deal was signed off to give us a new lab in London. Various options have been explored- green field sites near Kingswood, industrial units near Gatwick, and BBC locations across London and the south east were assessed. The final choice is Centre House, in the White City area(just behind the tube in fact- and from where you get this stunning view of Television centre (which interestingly, and slightly alarmingly, has just been awarded graded 2 listing status)).
Granted, Centre House is not the most delightful architectural gem of these fair isles. Nor it is nestled charmingly in the twee woods of some arboral vale. On the other hand it is smack bang in the middle of the corporation we are here to serve and from which we have for too long been a distant and slightly detatched peripheral, and it's all ours.
That last point is crucial- R&D does things differently to the rest of the BBC- we try and break stuff, we try stuff that hasn't been done before, that can't be done right now. In our current buildings we regularly completely repurpose huge rooms. We build temprary data centres, transmission suites and edit facilities- in the standard central support BBC this would lead to an impossible train wreck of corporate bureacracy, policy conflicts and the costs would be appaling. In our gaff, we do what we need to do to get the job done.
So, as of Thursday, Centre House is a hard hat zone- before the builders get to work though we're off on a quick recce- if I get good shots I'll flickr them!