London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has agreed to find £3.4m to keep development work going on a planned film studio complex after its California-based preferred partner for the project got cold feet.
Pacifica Ventures, the film studio developer, had an exclusivity agreement with the authority over the redevelopment of part of the former Sanofi pharmaceuticals site in Dagenham after it was selected last year.
But the exclusivity deal has ended and borough regeneration chiefs said Brexit uncertainty was to blame for the company’s decision not to push ahead to the agreed timescale.
A meeting of Barking and Dagenham’s cabinet was this week told there was “very strong” demand for studio space in the capital and sought consent to commit up to £3.4m from the council’s investment and acquisitions budget to fund design and development work on the project.
A report to cabinet members said the funding would cover the appointment of a design team for Made in Dagenham – named after the 2010 Bob Hoskins and Sally Hawkins film, which envisages the creation of a six sound-stage complex.
It said that the £3.4m would be met by borrowing and “added to the total cost of the site assembly and holding costs”, stated as currently £43.5m excluding interest.
Report author Stephen Hursthouse, who is development manager at Barking and Dagenham’s regeneration company Be First, said the project’s first phase would consist of three “high end” sound stages, a standalone office/reception and workshop space. He said some of the workshop space would come from the conversion of an existing unit on the site.
The £3.4m figure comprises £1.8m to develop and submit a planning application for the proposals, and a further £1.6m for detailed design work that would allow a contractor to be appointed for the first phase.
Although Pacifica’s exclusivity period envisaged a development partner taking a long leasehold on the studios proposal, Hursthouse’s report said that there was no finalised “delivery pathway” for the project.
“Industry concerns about planning are significant given high-profile failures to secure planning elsewhere,” he said. “Securing planning approval for the studios would be a major step forward in giving the industry confidence about Dagenham.
“This would encourage greater interest from potential funders/joint venture partners and greater certainty of lettings, potentially including an anchor tenant.”
After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting backed the plan, council leader Darren Rodwell said the complex would be the largest studios development in the capital for 25 years.
“If we get planning permission to build our Made in Dagenham studios, there are some exciting options – we could build them ourselves or we can work with any of the ambitious dynamic media companies who share our vision of making movies in what will be London’s Hollywood,” he said.
Be First managing director Pat Hayes said the plans would no-longer include Pacifica following the expiry of its exclusivity period.
“Pacifica told us they were finding it difficult to deliver their plans due to uncertainty over the UK leaving the European Union,” he said.
“What is not in doubt is the viability and demand for studio space in the UK which remains sky high, and that is why I am convinced there will be plenty of interest from parties who want to make sure movies will be made in Dagenham.”
Barking and Dagenham said the studio complex was “crucial” to its regeneration aspirations and would deliver significant on-site employment opportunities both during the construction phase and in the long-term.
It said the film-studio operator market was “extremely limited” with many UK facilities run or owned by local authorities, including Bristol and Manchester.
One of the buildings that would form the second phase of the Made in Dagenham project is currently hosting immersive events firm Secret Cinema’s Casino Royale production, which Hursthouse said had so-far attracted more than 115,000 to the Dagenham East site.