Even though its opening was attended by City Mayor Ian Stewart and Chief Exec Barbara Spicer, the official opening of The Landing, Salford Council's `high-tech hub' for small and medium digital companies, went largely unnoticed at the end of November 2012.
Comprising seven floors and 53,500 square feet of "state of the art facilities, studio and lab services, managed work space and social space, all allowing significant creative interaction", The Landing, previously known as the Media Enterprise Centre, has been beset by financial problems…
…But Salford Council has been determined to press on with the project, largely because a £3.8million five year lease was signed with Peel Holdings, before the scheme had 100% guaranteed backing.
In 2009 the costs for the Media Enterprise Centre were stated at £8.4million, with Europe (ERDF) and the North West Development Agency (NWDA) coughing up £6.7million between them, and Salford Council contributing £1.7million.
By last year, the costs had risen to £14.34million, with Europe and NWDA paying £10.6million between them, and Salford Council more than doubling its contribution to £3.66million – while it was announcing almost £40million of public spending cuts.
Salford Council, in response to a Salford Star Freedom of Information request, stated that the costs rose because NWDA was abolished and "meant that additional funding originally earmarked by NWDA for strategic projects to be included within the MEC, was no longer available"…
Instead, "Industry experts were engaged to carry out extensive market testing, to help reshape the MEC [Media Enterprise Centre] and develop a refined business model. This resulted in further funding being required, to allow the MEC to operate."
Cash strapped Salford Council could have stopped the project but internal reports show that it decided to press on – firstly because grant money would have to paid back, but also because it had signed that five year £3.8million lease with Peel Holdings, owners of the MediaCityUK building*
"The Council is obliged to keep this Lease for another 4+ years" one report states "Failure to run any sort of start up Media Enterprise Centre puts the Council in breach of the terms of the Lease and subject to forfeiture by the Landlord. In those circumstances, grant funding would have to be repaid."
The Salford Star understands that one year of the lease - £760,000 – had already been paid for the empty building.
The Council used `unsupported borrowing' for the `capital' costs of fitting out the building, including £39,000 on `signage', while running (revenue) costs were taken from its £10million so called `Media Enterprise Zone Fund' which is basically a Media City slush fund (see here).
Lost in the funding debacle was the `Make Media' centre, advertised in a Make it your MediaCityUK booklet distributed to the community surrounding the Quays. The Make Media centre was described as "an exciting community media project at the heart of MediaCityUK: a world class facility for grass roots media activity and a place where community groups and media organisations can create content and develop new skills".
When the NWDA was abolished the Make Media centre was one of the first projects cut – even though the organisation increased its funding to the Media Enterprise Centre by over £1.3million.
While the community media space was canned, the Media Enterprise Centre was re-branded as The Landing – complete with a £120 a year, privately run, private members club called On The 7th (remarkably it's on the seventh floor). The only people who can join are "professionals with direct links to MediaCityUK".
* Peel Media, of the Peel Holdings group that owns Media City, has just reported almost doubling its turnover on the site to £17.12million during the last financial year. One of the reasons for the increase, Peel Holdings accounts state, was "improved rental income generated by new tenants moving into MediaCityUK in the year".
The accounts add that 55,000 sq ft was let to Urban Vision. The Salford Star asked Urban Vision whether this was for The Landing, or new office space for Urban Vision. So far the joint Salford Council venture company hasn't responded.
• Under the Public Right of Inspection for Salford City Council accounts, six months ago the Salford Star asked to see all invoices and related documents for the Media Enterprise Centre, amongst other Media City projects. We are still waiting for this information which, apparently, is still going through `legal' channels.
• The Landing has had its own problems with Peel Holdings - iBurbia Studios, the company contracted to run The Landing's `media testing labs' etc has recently pulled out of the project, complaining that, while it needed to use BT broadband lines and set top boxes, Peel was trying to make the company use Peel's own private network.
Private Eye, which carried the story (issue 1330), added that elsewhere on Media City, BBC Future Media staff can only view their own work "via a satellite dish hidden in a cupboard" because "Peel will not allow BT services on the site".