Plans for 'largest film studio in the UK' revealed for Hertfordshire
- Credit: Bidwells
A world-leading film studios complex – the largest in the UK – could be built in Hertfordshire.
Developers are looking to construct Hertswood Studios just four miles down the road from South Mimms and the M25.
The proposals would see 21 stages built between Rowley Lane and the A1.
Located alongside the Legal & General-backed Sky Studios Elstree development currently under construction, it would create the UK's first film industry cluster.
The plans, submitted by leading property consultancy Bidwells, will see the delivery of 1 million sq ft of film studio space, including 21 stages, supporting workshops and offices, and a hotel for visiting film stars and crew.
The new studio complex would create over 14,000 jobs, and Oxford Economics predicts the completed scheme should contribute £1.17 billion GDP per annum to the local economy.
If granted planning permission, Hertswood Studios will be the single largest studio in the UK.
It has already received backing from the Department of International Trade (DIT) and the British Film Commission (BFC).
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In a letter to the local council, the DIT has said that the proposals “would be warmly welcomed, not at least as Hertsmere has such a rich heritage for film and HETV (High-End TV) production”.
The proposed development, coupled with the neighbouring Sky scheme already being built, will create a film and digital hub to rival anything in the world.
Plans for the state-of-the-art complex have been submitted for inclusion in Hertsmere Borough Council’s new Local Plan.
If adopted, and subsequently given planning permission, work could start as early as 2023, creating thousands of jobs.
Concept documents by Bidwells state the purpose-built facility would feature two 40,000 sq ft stages, three 30,000 sq ft stages, and 16 x 20,000 sq ft stages – all flexible and divisible so smaller spaces can be created.
There are also plans for an additional backlot of 20 acres – a much sought-after space in the industry in the UK – and an important element for filming and production.
The highly specified soundstages would be able to accommodate the latest surround screen filming technology.
Currently agricultural fields, the 90-acre site would also include a creative media college to operate alongside the existing Elstree Screen Arts Academy, which has links with both Elstree Studios and the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.
The college space would offer hundreds of training and apprenticeships opportunities every year.
The proposals also promise a “highly sustainable development incorporating energy efficiency, renewable power and high-quality landscaping”.
With BBC Elstree Centre, the famous Elstree Studios and the new Sky Studios Elstree all nearby, and Warner Bros Studios at Leavesden, Hertfordshire would be elevated to become the prime film studio location in the UK, and a global leader in the industry.
Approximately three-quarters of the UK’s film industry is based in and around London.
Hertswood Studios is perfectly placed in the “8 o’clock to 12 o’clock of the M25” area, a prime location for film crew, access to central London and Heathrow Airport.
Iain Keys, partner in fund management at Bidwells, said: "London is a city synonymous with characters such as James Bond, Austin Powers, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist and Bridget Jones, and franchises such as Star Wars, The Crown, Kingsman and Mission: Impossible.
"This didn’t come about by accident. Our city’s success is thanks to a near-alchemical mix of locations, facilities and technical expertise, all of which are underpinned by generous and reliable tax reliefs.
“However, huge supply and demand mismatches threaten to dethrone the UK as one of the UK’s leading production hubs.
"Our proposals for Hertswood Studios will instead help cement the UK’s position at the top by providing grade-A purpose-built space in the most prime location.
"In addition, with approximately three-quarters of the UK’s film industry based in and around London, investors and companies will benefit from a location that is part of the UK’s biggest film and TV cluster – making it easy to attract and retain talent.”
Why are so many new stages needed?
Due to the growing demand for filmed content, the film and TV industry has become increasingly valuable in terms of employment and investment.
International film and high-end television (HETV) production spend in the UK topped £2.34bn in 2020, despite the initial impact of COVID-19, according to the BFC.
Inward investment feature films from last year include the likes of Jurassic World: Dominion and Mission: Impossible 7 starring Tom Cruise and Hertfordshire-based actor Simon Pegg.
However, a lack of new purpose-built space means there is up to 1.9 million sq ft of film studio space required in the UK, according to property agent Lambert Smith Hampton.
Sky has committed to the new 30-acre development south of the proposed Hertswood Studios site, which will include 280,000 sq ft of studio space.
New studios are also planned for Dagenham in London, and Shinfield Studios in Reading.
Hertswood would help plug the shortfall, whether the studios is leased out long-term to a film company – like Pinewood is to Disney and Shepperton to Netflix – or stages are rented out like hotel rooms to filmmakers as and when they are required.
Bidwells' Iain Keys said: "Looking ahead, we plan on working closely with the forward-thinking Hertsmere Borough Council to deliver this scheme and progress with consulting the local communities that reside in the area and build on the incredibly rich film heritage of Elstree.”
In a letter to the council, Adrian Wootton, CEO at British Film Commission (BFC), said: “With the renewed demand for content, the need for additional studios and appropriate stage space has never been greater.”
In another letter to Hertsmere, Rupert Daniels, director of agriculture, food & drink, creative, lifestyle and learning at the Department for International Trade (DIT), said: “DIT are supporting this proposal from Bidwells with their aim to create additional stage space, which will bring considerable investment and employment to the local area.
"Our continued support of projects such as these and the sector includes the introduction of capital investors to studio infrastructure investment opportunities, ongoing promotion of the film and TV tax credits, and working across Whitehall to ensure the regulatory, skills and R&D environment is as supportive as possible.”
What happens next?
If incorporated into Hertsmere’s new Local Plan, work on Hertswood Studios could begin by 2023.
The Hertswood plans have been submitted to the council on behalf of Gilston Investments Ltd, owners of the Wrotham Park Estate near Potters Bar, as part of Hertsmere's 'Call for Employment Sites' launched by the borough's planning team in February.
It will be added to a long list of other potential employment locations around the borough submitted as part of a previous call for sites and earlier consultations aimed at helping the council create a new Local Plan for Hertsmere.
This Local Plan will guide development and influence how the borough changes through the after-effects of the pandemic and over the next 15 years.
Currently, planning officers and councillors are deciding which sites will form part of the new plan, due to be published later this year. Not all potential sites will be included in the plan.
The next formal consultation will be conducted once the draft plan is published.
Ross Whear, Hertsmere's head of planning and economic development, said: "We issued the latest Call for Employment Sites after officers became aware of several new potential employment sites in the borough.
"We wanted to find out more about these new sites and what they might mean for the borough. We're very grateful to everyone who has participated in this process.
"The next step will be to assess whether they meet the requirements for inclusion as an employment site and their suitability for development.
"Members of the public will have a chance to comment on any sites which are deemed suitable once the draft Local Plan is published."
In the Hertswood submission, Steven Brown, of Woolf Bond Planning LLP, on behalf of Gilston, says the Rowley Lane site is "an appropriate location to accommodate a significant employment opportunity in the form of a new film studio complex".
The specialist town planning consultancy says the proposals would "create a world leading facility which, alongside Sky and the existing BBC and Elstree Studios, will project Borehamwood to be one of the largest film and HETV (High End Television) production centres in the world".
A report from Oxford Economics calculates the studio proposals would create 14,490 jobs.