The British Hollywood? Planning application for American film studio set to go to Hertfordshire Council

It was supposed to be a public consultation, but it felt like a celebration. Sunset Studios has planned to build a gigantic £120 million film studio complex in very un-Hollywood Hertfordshire.

It seemed clear at the celebratory consultation in October 2021, from the black, gold, and silver balloons, the garish streamers and blaring pop music, that they felt they had planning permission and the support of the local community in the bag.

The studios hoped to provide local residents with more information about its plans and gain their support, as its application went to the council, less than a year later in March 2022. Sunset Studios is currently waiting for planning permission from the council to build a 91-acre studio.

The outcome of Sunset Studio’s planning application to the council will be announced in May 2022. Construction would begin in 2023 to be completed by 2025 with the first films being made in 2026.

James Holden, design associate at Leonard Design Architects, said: “It’s all very exciting and this studio is very rare. A studio has never been built on this scale in the UK in one go as a big development. Usually, studios start off small and gradually become bigger. It will be a world class studio and a real challenge.”

For decades, some of the biggest film and television franchises – think James Bond and Harry Potter – began their journey to the global box office with help of talent from the British film industry.

Hertfordshire is already home to Warner Bros Studios Leavesden and Elstree Studios, Borehamwood. The county is becoming the ‘British Hollywood’ with Waltham Cross in the borough of Broxbourne becoming its new centre. The studio chose Waltham Cross because of the large amount of unused land, lower costs and close travel links to London.

Institutional investment firm Blackstone and real estate outfit Hudson Pacific Properties have agreed upon the joint venture. This venture involves proposed plans for the LA studio giants’ Californian Sunset Studios to build their first major campus studio outside the United States.

The developers are promising a local jobs bonanza of 4,500 jobs for Hertfordshire residents. They believe it will bring $300 million to the local economy.

The British industry has been quite successful lately as UK qualifying films earned $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office in 2010, which was 9 per cent of the global theatrical market. From 2011-20, films from UK writers earned over $15 billion at the global box office. A total of 68 per cent of the top 200 films featured British actors. UK talent directed 29 of the 200 highest earning films, according to the British Film Institute’s UK and British Talent Worldwide Full Report.

Sunset Studio partners look forward to UK studio

Erik Thoreen, senior vice president of UK ventures at Hudson Pacific Properties, said: “We have wanted to come to the UK for a long time. The quality of the film industry and talent here is high and very attractive in the UK. The UK industry is booming.”

Thoreen said: “Sunset Studios Waltham Cross would meet the evolving and changing demands of the industry. The studio will bid to create big budget productions.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, members of parliament and the British Film Commission have welcomed plans for Sunset Studios to be built in Hertfordshire.

Matthew Hele, director of development at Revantage Europe, a Blackstone company, said the proposed plans for the studio would do great things for the British film industry.

“The studio will help to grow the brand and field huge demand in the industry,” said Hele. “It is a design revolution and technical diligence to produce programmes. It will create skilled workers.”

The centre of the studio would be the sound stage with production and workshops attached. There will also be stages, backlots, editing, filming, offices, green space, and a community square (including restaurants and a day-care) on the proposed campus film and television studio.

There are 30 architects alone on the project, along with 50 engineers, 10 traffic engineers, and environment and planning teams. The studio promised not to make a negative impact on the local environment, as Hertfordshire is known for its countryside and green open spaces.

Hannah Blunstone, a town planner for CBRE Property Advisory said: “The site will be non–noise, environmentally sensitive and accessible.”

“Enhancing the river edge and transport links and improvements are underway,” said Blunstone.

Local residents express views on studio plans

The ones who will be most impacted by the studio would be local residents.

Raymond Butler, a retired teacher and Janet Butler, a retired carer, said they thought that the studios were a good idea, particularly as the land it would be built on hasn’t been used for two to three years.

“It will serve a purpose and provide new ground for something useful. It will create jobs and serve the community, especially for the younger generation,” said Mr Butler.

“I’m excited for the studio, it will be there for all your life, a great addition to the town,” said Mrs Butler.

A former Pinewood and Elstree Studio worker, Michael Morgan, from Waltham Cross, said: “The impact [the studio] will have on the area is amazing. The area will prosper and thrive because of it and it will transform the area.

“Because of the very early daily start and very late finishes (of a film studio) the peak time traffic will not be affected by the presence of the studios. We will have better train services running to and from the area after midnight (unlike at the moment). This will be of great help for commuters living in this area and it allows the area to prosper and thrive.”

Julie Clark, 55, from Hoddesdon said she was very excited for the studio, saying it would be nice for more films to come out in the cinemas that were made locally.

“There’s nothing nicer than going to the cinema to watch a film. It would be nice for a new studio to produce new films as long as it’s done nicely,” said Clark.

Other residents felt that the studio is simply making false promises and will ruin the town. They believe the studio would need to live up to its responsibilities and obligations for the area.

John Richards, a former teacher, and Steven Jared, previously an insurance worker, said he was worried about the disruption to local travel and environment from the studio.

“A lot of people will be coming from outside to a big studio site. The local area is nice and spacious, but the studio could create traffic and disruption and dramatically change the area,” said Richards.

“I was concerned about the river and local area the land will be built on. It means more people, traffic, noise, and waste. The village-like feel of the area will be gone,” said Jared.

Local Waltham Cross resident Tim said the studio should only go ahead if it makes good on its promises to the area. He wonders whether what the studio plans to do will happen.

“In spite of the large petition that was raised against the Print Works (the power cable that had been run there from Enfield Lock, two years previously). I understand few of the ‘many local jobs’ ever happened.”

The Print Works remained disassociated and out of touch with Waltham Cross. It is a small town and any local economical or environmental issues from the studio could cause major disruption and upheaval.

Broxbourne councillor supports studios planning application

The studios have received strong support from the local Broxbourne Council.

Councillor for Waltham Cross Dee Hart said: “Herts is a county of opportunity and open for business. The local community can pull together to live and prosper with this.”

She said the studios would help to create a fantastic legacy that will put Waltham Cross on the map and help promote her constituency.

“I believe we [Waltham Cross] punch above our weight as a small borough. I’m proud of the local opportunities Sunset Studios will bring for residents and Herts as a whole. It will have something to meet everyone’s needs.”

Waltham Cross has successfully punched above its weight before when it hosted the Canoe Slalom and Kayaking events for the London 2012 Olympics.

Sharon Jones, 65, from Cheshunt said the studio will be an exciting opportunity for Waltham Cross and the surrounding area.

“For a long time now Waltham Cross has been a forgotten outpost of Hertfordshire with Hertfordshire Council concentrating its investments in the more upmarket towns.

“Hopefully, this investment by the film company will bring lots of opportunities to this area.”

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