‘This is the return of the British Hollywood’ – £12m film studios expansion moves a step closer

PUBLISHED: 16:23 27 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:23 27 August 2020

An artist's impression of the two new sound stages and anciliary workshops which will be built on the site of the former Big Brother house at Elstree Studios. Picture: supplied by Hertsmere Borough Council

An artist's impression of the two new sound stages and anciliary workshops which will be built on the site of the former Big Brother house at Elstree Studios. Picture: supplied by Hertsmere Borough Council

Hertsmere Borough Council

A proposed £12 million investment in Elstree Studios – home of The Crown and Strictly Come Dancing – has moved a step close.

Elstree StudiosElstree Studios

Plans to expand the council-owned TV and film studios and provide a post-lockdown jobs boost for Hertsmere and the county by building two new sound stages on the site of the former Big Brother house have moved forward.

Borough councillors agreed at an extraordinary full council meeting last night (Wednesday, August 26) to approve £6 million of match funding to build the new stages and ancillary facilities such as workshops.

This is subject to formal notification that £6 million of Government funding will be granted for the project via the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Elstree Studios is currently home to both BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and hit Netflix series The Crown.

Cllr Morris Bright MBE, leader of Hertsmere Borough CouncilCllr Morris Bright MBE, leader of Hertsmere Borough Council

However, the lack of space has meant TV shows – including a number of long-term drama series and four major big budget feature films – have had to be turned away.

This has resulted in almost £30 million of lost revenue over the last 18 months.

Elstree Studios is owned by the council and managed by Elstree Film Studios Limited, and its success – or failure – has a direct impact on council tax payers in Potters Bar.

Councillor Morris Bright MBE, leader of the council, said: “Elstree Studios represents the beating heart of our borough – it is a fundamental part of our heritage having been in operation here in Borehamwood since the 1920s.

“We are committed to realising this project as a huge boon for our residents and businesses, the wider Hertfordshire community and the UK’s creative sector.”

The expansion plans have already attracted interest from major production companies, and hopes are it will lead to the creation of at least 800 jobs per year over the next 50 years, plus apprenticeship opportunities for local school leavers and the unemployed.

In addition, it was agreed at the meeting that £100,000 per year of the project’s profits will be invested into the creative industries in the borough, including local media and creative enterprises and initiatives.

Hertsmere Labour group leader, Cllr Jeremy Newmark, said he was “proud to support these proposals which have the potential to become a catalyst and even the bedrock of local economic recovery”.

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix's The Crown. Picture: Sophie MutevelianOlivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix's The Crown. Picture: Sophie Mutevelian

Cllr Newmark added: “I’m thrilled that Labour’s amendment to the original proposals which seeks to front load the community contribution by creating a £100k annual fund to support local creative and media initiatives has been agreed by all political groups and is now part of the final plans.

“This means that the public will see tangible benefits from the outset rather than having to wait a decade as originally planned.”

Hertsmere Labour deputy leader, Potters Bar Furzefield councillor Christian Gray, added: “We supported this because its all about local money being spent to benefit local people.

“It’s a huge opportunity. Critically we must be sure that the governance of the studios is sufficiently robust to oversee such a significant project.”

An aerial shot of the George Lucas Stages at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree StudiosAn aerial shot of the George Lucas Stages at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree Studios

Meanwhile work on the nearby Sky Studios Elstree, a cutting-edge 12 stage production facility off Rowley Lane, is moving ahead after the planning application was unanimously given the green light by councillors last month.

This is expected to attract £3 billion of production investment, and create 2,000 jobs in the region.

With BBC Elstree also flourishing in Hertsmere, Morris Bright tweeted “this is the return of the British Hollywood to Borehamwood”.

Also chairman of Elstree Studios, Cllr Bright said: “The two new sound stages will result in 800 new jobs and more than 100 new learner or apprenticeship opportunities per year, providing much-needed and very welcome employment and training opportunities for local people.

Roger Morris, managing director of Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree StudiosRoger Morris, managing director of Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree Studios

“If realised, this project will come at a time when many of our residents are experiencing severe financial difficulties following the coronavirus pandemic.

“The studios currently contributes almost £1.6m in funding a year for local day-to-day services, such as parks, waste and recycling collection, community grants, street cleaning.

“Now more than ever, we need Elstree Studios to thrive and these new state-of-the-art studios will secure its future for generations to come.”

The new stages to be built on the former Big Brother site are similar in design to the existing ‘George Lucas’ studio building.

Outside the George Lucas Stage at Elstree StudiosOutside the George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios

They will be available for use separately or combined to form a supersize soundstage.

Prior to lockdown, plans were in place to fund the project through private investors.

However, the current economic crisis meant the council was forced to seek support elsewhere.

A bid for a £6m grant for ‘shovel ready’ projects from the Government via Hertfordshire LEP is currently being considered.

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix's The Crown. Picture: Des Willie / NetflixOlivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix's The Crown. Picture: Des Willie / Netflix

Roger Morris, managing director of Elstree Studios, said: “The new stages will provide Elstree Studios with almost 60 per cent more capacity for productions ranging from feature films to high-end television and drama.

“We already have major production companies requesting to hire the new stages once they are built.

“We also have a mission to train more young people from the area to work in the film and television industry.

To further this outcome, The Elstree Screen Arts Academy formerly called the Elstree UTC will be working closely with all the studios in Hertsmere, to create custom vocational courses for young people to fill the skills shortages in the growing UK creative sector.”

Olivia Colman playing Queen Elizabeth in the third series of The Crown. Picture: Sophie Mutevelian / NetflixOlivia Colman playing Queen Elizabeth in the third series of The Crown. Picture: Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix

Mr Morris added: “The increase in capacity at Elstree Studios and the new Sky Studios Elstree will also mean more film and TV support companies locating in Hertsmere and more spend in the local economy.

“This can be considered the dawn of a new golden age for the television and film industry in Hertsmere.”


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