We've been sat in Central Salford Urban Regeneration Company's ultra posh Quays HQ for an hour debating the ins and outs of the BBC move, Media City and everything else going off in Central Salford. Finally, the question is asked to its Chief Executive, Chris Farrow…
So, is it all going to work and be a massive success?
Oh come on, you've got to assume that!
"I wouldn't…er…I'm ambitious, I'm not heroic" Farrow replies "If I didn't think it was within the realms of the possible I wouldn't ask anyone to waste their time…"
The "realms of the possible"? That's hardly a ringing endorsement for the multi billion pound project upon which the whole future of a city is relying. The `realms of the possible'? The `realms of the possible'?
Salford City winning the FA Cup is in the `realms of the possible'…An elephant landing the first spaceship on Mars is in the `realms of the possible'…
The statement certainly seems at odds with the bold statement on his own organisation's website, that Central Salford Is On The Brink Of Greatness. So is it all hype or what?
A recently released academic paper questions the very basis of Media City and the BBC move as a tool for creating jobs and equality in the community and sorting out Salford's economic problems. Its author, Brett Christophers, is well out of the way of any vested interests, based at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Basically, he argues that the benefits cited for the Peel Holdings led project "appears to be an article of faith" which get repeated by its champions and somehow gains credibility.
He writes that "we can perhaps think of the project as a form of `corporate gentrification'…whereby `real estate development becomes a centrepiece of the city's productive economy, an end in itself'…" Or in plain English, that Media City is more about building loads of luxury apartments, expensive commercial spaces and places for "elite consumption practices" than anything else.
Christophers doesn't criticise the BBC move itself but "the specific development proposal that has materialised". And his study – well hidden in the Environment and Planning journal, and yawningly titled The BBC, the creative class, and neoliberal urbanism in the north of England - is absolutely damning. It argues that, despite all the talk of community involvement coming from Media City's cheerleaders, it will probably leave Salfordians behind.
He asks "Which Salford (is) the BBC move intended to profit; and which Salfordians?" He quotes a report by Salford City Council itself suggesting that the benefits of the BBC move are likely to be focused on "areas close to the regional centre such as Chapel Street and the creative sector", and points to America where "its creative capitals are actually more unequal than the rest of the United States".
Christophers cites study after study that have been done on past attempts to regenerate the area that show "no role" for "poorer people", who have been "edged out of sight as the new arterial roads designed to improve city centre accessibility came to scythe through old neighbourhoods, such as those in Salford…Thus when one reads the fine print of Salford URC's wider plans to `regenerate' the city, it is hard to avoid the images bequeathed by that historical geography…"
He goes even further, arguing that poorer Salfordians will actually get an even worse deal from projects such as MediaCity "through the workings of the real estate markets and changes in the priorities of public budgets". We're already seeing the former with a huge increase in luxury apartments, and the latter with the diverting of £20million to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
On the jobs front, Christophers almost mocks what he calls the "snowballing" claims for the benefits of Media City and its knock on effects. In late 2005 the North West Development Agency (NWDA) estimated a benefit of 4400 jobs. By June 2006, he writes, "the benefits predicted by NWDA had grown mysteriously (and without explanation) to `up to 10,000 jobs'". And by October of the same year, the figure had grown to 15,500 jobs. These figures, he argues, are "assumed" and "have been escalated without explicit foundation". Since the study has been published, Felicity Goodey, Chair of Central Salford URC, claimed at the MIPIM bash in France this year "something in the order of 20,000 jobs".
Farrow, head of Central Salford URC, the company that has played such a huge role in pushing the Media City project, explains the growth in potential jobs by the increase in the physical size of the site which has mushroomed from the BBC space to the outer surrounding area, spilling over into Trafford. He argues that even an estimate of 15,500 jobs is "thoughtful" and "prudent" and offers a view of the consultant's report where the figures are calculated (we take him up on this offer after the interview and, while we never got to see the whole report, the `Overview' shows at best, 3,250 jobs for Salford – see panel).
We go through Christophers' economic analysis point by point, some of it Farrow accepts (the inability of the creative industries alone to affect major change) and some of it he rejects out of hand ("it's not about property it's about the huge potential for media operators to have access to free standing very advanced technology"). He discusses Christophers' assertion that the benefits of MediaCity won't go anywhere near the working class in Salford.
"That's the challenge within every regeneration project and the outcomes are varied" Farrow replies "That's why we're starting again with a new approach and we're working our socks off trying to do it differently."
But people have been promised this stuff before…
"I don't dispute that there's been a whole generation of people who have missed out…but this is about changing people's aspirations and making connections. In the same way that the Manchester Ship Canal transformed activities around the Industrial Revolution, I think this just raises the whole game to a higher level."
The point is that anyone could work on the docks but with Media City you're looking at a digital divide in Salford that is as big as the wealth divide…
"The challenge we have is in every major urban area, every post industrial area" he explains "The are a couple of generations of people who have got off the train in terms of jobs and employment, and now they and their kids have these huge difficulties. We've not managed to address that problem – that has to be the top priority…"
…As long as the problem isn't addressed by giving Salfordians priority access to Media City UK with sweeping brushes, security guard hats and tofu flipping utensils.
see here for continuation... http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=15
Words: Stephen Kingston