Preferred bidder for site shelved plan due to Brexit but rival still keen as studio demand booms
Stalled plans to build a Hollywood-style studio in Dagenham East have been thrown a lifeline, with a backer offering £179m to get the first new TV and film studio built in London in 25 years.
The project has been in doubt after a developer put proposals on hold indefinitely, citing Brexit uncertainty. However, another party with support from Netflix and a Hollywood film company has said its bid still stands and that the project can survive the EU-UK melodrama.
“Our offer, our bid, is still there,” said Piers Read, the co-founder of the Creative District Improvement Company (TCDIC), which lost out last year when Barking and Dagenham council picked the Los Angeles-based developer Pacifica Ventures.
“We hope to go back in and see it to fruition. The demand for filming in this country will not be affected by Brexit at all.”
Plans for £110m London film studios on hold because of ‘Brexit uncertainty’
Read said the £179m Dagenham bid had the support of Millennium Films, makers of the Expendables and Rambo films, which was looking to make productions there, and Netflix. Be First, the east London council’s regeneration company, last month approved releasing £3.4m in development costs for the 22-acre site on a former pharmaceutical factory opposite Dagenham East station.
Pat Hayes, the managing director of Be First, said a decision on the studios would be made after submitting planning permission in the new year.
“At this point, the council will decide whether to build the studios out itself or to select a development partner to take the project to the next stage,” he said.
“The council has an open mind at this stage as to who to partner with but is receiving almost daily interest in the opportunity the studios site offers from major industry players.”
The UK’s popularity as a filming base, which reflects a skilled workforce and high-quality facilities built up over decades, is growing. More than 200 films and 120 high-end TV shows were made in the UK last year with a total production spend of almost £3.1bn, according to figures from the British Film Institute.
The amount spent on making high-end TV shows – classified as a production that has a budget of at least £1m per episode, such as The Crown and Game of Thrones – hit a record £1.2bn in the UK last year.
Netflix and rival Amazon Studios have reportedly also expressed interest in making TV shows and films at a new £135m project in Ashford, Kent, which is also being developed by TCDIC.
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“There is a terrible shortage of studio space and a skills shortage too. There is so much demand from the US streamers and also the UK independent sector which is being squeezed out in the rush for space. We believe there is a 2.5m sq ft deficit in studio space in the UK,” said Read, adding that the shortage had been exacerbated by recent long-term deals signed by Disney and Netflix to use the Pinewood and Shepperton studios outside London.
“The deficit jumped 30% since Disney and Netflix struck their deals for exclusive space at Pinewood and Shepperton studios.”
The 15-acre Newton Works in Ashford, a locomotive manufacturing site from 1847 until it was shut in the early 1980s, will be developed to feature four 20,000 sq ft film stages as well as a film training academy, conference centre and 120-bed hotel.
If planning permission can be secured in January, it is understood that a global streaming partner has agreed to start making shows and films when the site opens for business in 2021.
In September, Netflix revealed it would spend $500m (£400m) making more than 50 TV shows and films in the UK this year.
TCDIC, which has £500m in backing from institutional investors, is aiming to develop at least four more studios over the next five years in locations including west London, Liverpool, Manchester and the Midlands to try to keep pace with demand.