Cost-cutting BBC NI may cancel move and renovate instead
BBC Northern Ireland is having second thoughts about moving from its current Belfast headquarters, it can be revealed.
The corporation had been looking at potential sites for its new Northern Ireland base, including the Sirocco Works site on the east bank of the Lagan and areas off Royal Avenue.
Now, however, it's understood BBC NI is leaning towards staying in Ormeau Avenue and undertaking a major refurbishment programme on a building that first opened in 1941.
A well-placed source told this newspaper: "We understand that bosses have decided that it makes more financial sense to stay put and invest in the facilities they already have rather than to endure the upheaval of a wholesale move and the undeniable hassle of flitting to another location in the city centre."
But a BBC spokesman last night said that no decisions had yet been made.
"The review into our property requirements is still ongoing," he said.
"Value for money and audience benefit will be our guiding priorities. This project has explored a range of options, including looking at different locations and redeveloping our current sites.
"We will announce our plans once this review is complete and a final decision has been made."
Speculation has been mounting over the relocation of BBC Northern Ireland from its historic home at Broadcasting House in south Belfast.
In April 2016, it was linked to the 16-acre Sirocco site beside the River Lagan in east Belfast by the property news service CoStar News, which said the Sirocco site and an area near the new Ulster University campus had "emerged as early favourites".
CoStar News also said that "market sources" indicated that the BBC's need for studio space and parking for broadcast vehicles meant it would need a development site rather than refurbished space.
Rumours pertaining to Royal Avenue also came to light following ambitious new regeneration plans for Belfast city centre.
They arose after Belfast City Council launched its 'Belfast: Future City - making it real' investment strategy, which involved developing and transforming various areas for business, retail, tourism and recreation.
Prior to that, in December 2013, BBC NI director Peter Johnston said the corporation was looking for "a central, neutral and accessible site".
Questioned by MLAs on the culture and arts committee, he said there were close to 20 potential sites, with the Titanic Quarter a possible new location.
There had also been reported negotiations with the BBC to become part of a 'creative hub' in the Titanic Quarter area.