SECRET talks have failed to bring ITV Meridian back to Southampton, the Daily Echo can reveal.
The broadcaster has to quit its current home in the New Year after landlords at its Hampshire base cancelled the lease, but now looks likely instead to relocate to another property within Whiteley.
Meridian bosses had been considering heading back to Southampton, which it left five years ago when it moved out of its Northam studios, and had identified the near-empty Charlotte Place development as a potential new home.
Despite frantic behind-the scenes efforts from Southampton City Council chiefs to sweeten the deal, negotiations broke down at the last minute and the firm has decided to stay in an out-of-town location where rents are cheaper.
The broadcaster is being forced to move after its landlords activated a break clause in the lease on its Solent Business Park home.
It is understood bosses were already looking at shifting studios and newsrooms, with a plan to return to Southampton being seriously considered to help improve the station’s news coverage.
Southampton is the second-biggest city – behind Brighton & Hove – in Meridian’s region, which stretches 200 miles from Dorset to Kent, and north to Oxfordshire.
Discussions with agents over an eight-year lease on the top floor of Charlotte Place, next to Jury’s Inn, reached an advanced stage.
Only one floor of the eight-storey £55m development has ever been let since it was built five years ago, but the two parties were unable to agree a compromise over the advertised £19.75-per-square-foot rent.
However, a deal was close to being struck with Southampton City Council over renting 55 spaces at the Grosvenor Square Car Park for £50,000 a year – a significant reduction on the standard £1,600 season ticket charge.
An ITV spokesman said: “The landlord of the current base of Meridian in Whiteley has a break clause in the lease, and they’re activating it, which we’re using as an opportunity to move to a new base that better suits our needs. We’re in advanced negotiations on a property close to the current site.”
Southampton City Council leader Royston Smith said: “We’re massively disappointed. We did everything we could to make it an attractive offer for them, including finding dedicated parking for them at a competitive rate.
“We wanted to bring Meridian and that level of jobs back into the city after they left some years ago.”
Meridian’s latest move comes just two years after a radical shake-up a saw more than 100 jobs cut in its newsroom.
Presenter Debbie Thrower was the highest profile casualty of the cull, which resulted in more than half of workers being made redundant as three previously distinct areas were merged to produce just one super-region.
Despite being filmed in Hampshire, Meridian Tonight presenters Fred Dinenage and Sangeeta Bhabra sit in front of a screen showing images of a bridge in Maidstone, Kent.
The seven-acre site of Meridian's former Southampton home, next to Northam Bridge, is still lying empty after the studios were demolished.
Surrey-based developers Oakdene bought the land for £8.5m, but its £100m plans for two 18-storey towers and a crescent of apartments and family homes with gardens were plunged into uncertainty when the company fell into administration last year.