$300 Million U.K. Studio Project Gets Planning Permission

Ashford Studio - H - 2020
Credit: The Creative District Improvement Company

The Ashford International Film Studios — from a newly-established U.K. studios investment fund — will be built on the site of a former railway works, and include four TV and film studios.

Ashford International Film Studios, a proposed £250 million ($305 million) new production facility outside of London, has received planning permission from its local authority. 

The decision — which was made in a virtual council meeting Wednesday evening — means the development can now go ahead on the former site of Kent's Newtown Railway Works by U.K. studio investment group The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI) and developers Quinn Estates. 

Its backers claim that the project, first officially unveiled in March, is the biggest single investment in U.K. TV and film studios, which prior to the COVID-19 crisis had been in hot demand due to the local production boom (which hit a record $4.7 billion in 2019, according to the BFI), and hope for it to open its doors in early 2022.

"Amidst this current global pandemic, it is extremely exciting to be given the go-ahead by the council to start work on what will become one of the U.K.’s biggest creative hubs," said Jeremy Rainbird and Piers Read, the Brit producers and real estate developers who set up TCDI. "Global streaming giants have already expressed interest in the scheme as demand for their services booms and before there is a huge backlog in production, as people stay at home and burn through original content at record levels."

The facility is set to include four TV and film studios over more than 22,000 square meters, creating in excess of 3,000 jobs, according to TCDI, and making it the largest TV and film studio new build outside London. Eyeing increased production demand from U.S. streaming giants, the developers have pointed to Ashford's Eurostar train stop, which connects to Amsterdam, where Netflix has its European hub.

The development will also include a university aimed at TV, film, animation and postproduction tech with space for around 200 graduates each year, and a high-end hotel to accommodate those working at the studios.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter last month, Rainbird was optimistic that U.K. production, effectively shut down in its entirety due to the coronavirus pandemic, would immediately pick back up.

"There’s a bottleneck forming at the moment," he says. "People are waiting for the starting pistol to go off. And when it does, we're going to finish all the productions on hiatus, and they're going to bring forward all of the other productions that perhaps might have been slated for next year. All this is doing is delaying the enormous spend to satisfy the enormous appetite that we have for content."

In April, TCDI announced a 500 million pound ($615 million) investment war chest for U.K. studio projects alongside its £50 million ($60 million) acquisition and extension of iconic London facility Twickenham Studios.