Plans to build a film studio in Marlow’s Green Belt have been dealt ‘a severe blow’ following the publication of an economic analysis commissioned by Buckinghamshire Council.
Property consultant Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) cast doubt on claims by Marlow Film Studios that the site is necessary for the future of the UK film and TV industry.
The report ‘struggles’ with the argument that the studio’s success is dependent upon its proximity to a ‘critical mass’ of film production professionals from the West London Cluster (WLC).
The West London Cluster covers a set of film studios around the East Berks and South Bucks area among others, including Pinewood, though its exact scope is not officially defined.
But LSH shed doubt on the claim that ‘the WLC is the only place in the UK that can attract major high-end TV [HETV]’ – describing this as ‘fundamentally untrue’.
The company states that ‘there is now acceptance amongst [professionals] that other locations now present viable and cost-effective options’ for film production.
One idea that came under criticism was the stressing of the importance of creating a ‘critical mass’ of film production facilities in one cluster.
LSH found this ‘difficult to reconcile’ with the fact that studios ‘are likely to pool and utilise existing talent’ as opposed to
generate new entrants to the sector.
The consultancy said it had ‘major concerns’ about the availability of skilled crews in the UK to meet
demand – and the number of new employees being trained will need to ‘increase dramatically.’
“We consider most of the economic benefits to better suit a facility in an unestablished location rather than within the WLC; driven by the creation of new opportunities, rather than utilising existing pools of talent and infrastructure,” it wrote.
The LSH report also points out that the Marlow Film Studios case rests on an assumption that there will be a significant gap between the growing demand for studio space and the amount under development.
It said this underestimates the number of potential sites under consideration.
“We consider the combination of sites recently delivered, sites with planning consent or expansion to existing facilities… to be sufficient to address the majority of unmet demand,” it wrote.
It also thought the studios’ assumptions of growth was based on ‘dated’ information.
“The assumptions for demand growth rely upon historical trends which appear arbitrary and not something that should be
relied upon from a planning policy perspective,” LSH wrote.
The consultant dismissed the ‘high scenario’ assumptions as based on a ‘a spurious starting figure’, not in keeping with other market estimations.
Save Marlow’s Greenbelt, a campaign group which opposes the studio plan said this report was a ‘severe blow’ for the studio.
Chairman Richard Sherwin said: “This report supports our belief that these property developers don’t understand the film
industry and that they only selected Little Marlow because greenbelt land offers bigger profits.
“The studio will offer insignificant benefits and it is now clear that it could be successfully built elsewhere without the devastating impact on our town, our environment and our roads.”
A spokesperson for Marlow Film Studios said:
“We welcome this independent report which supports our planning application.
“The studios will bring 4180 new jobs and £338million in economic benefit to the area and the report recognises this value in its first page summary saying: ‘we are supportive of any studio development that adds to the UK infrastructure and capacity, which is something that if built out, Marlow Film Studios would undoubtedly do’.
“The report also recognises the growing demand for UK studio space, which our project will have a significant role in filling, by saying: ‘The (Marlow Film Studios) submission incorporates various demonstrations of the benefits of film studio development from both an economic and regenerative perspective…. but as one of the most outspoken advocates of the sector and the need for more stage space over the last five years, we anticipate that there would be considerable common ground.’
“The report also supports the existing film studio geographical cluster in which Buckinghamshire is a key anchor, with Pinewood and the National Film & Television School which has 75% of the UK Film and Tv economy and 73 per cent of the jobs located to the west of London which includes southern parts of Buckinghamshire.”
To see all documents relating to this application, enter reference 22/06443/FULEA into the Bucks planning portal.