A £250 million (€287m) TV and film studio plan set to transform an abandoned railway works in the southeast England town of Ashford, Kent has been approved by the local council. The Ashford International Studios scheme, aimed at attracting the likes of Netflix and Amazon, has been given the green light following a planning meeting of Ashford Borough Council.
Set to be built on a disused rail works, the scheme is estimated to add £100 million a year to Ashford’s economy as well as more than 2,000 full-time jobs. The studio plan will also feature production facilities, serviced and independent apartments, a multi-storey car park and an 18-storey hotel, which is set to become the town’s tallest building.
Councillors discussed the plans from their homes, with proceedings live-streamed on YouTube. Jeremy Rainbird of The Creative District Improvement Company, the company behind the scheme with developer Quinn Estates and funding partner U+I, supported the council officer’s recommendation to approve, saying that with the Council’s support, developers could collectively start to rebuild and create the industry, jobs and momentum that could deliver an exciting new era for Ashford – building on the investment already made in the town.
“Approving this application will mean that tomorrow when I telephone Eoin Egan, the director of studio and production operations for Netflix, and John Eddy, director of worldwide production real estate for Amazon – both amongst those who are vying for our production space – I can say the Ashford International Studios have been given the green light with overwhelming support and excitement and that the studios will be open for business in 2022,” he declared.
Work to deliver 240,000 sq. ft of dedicated production space will begin immediately with a target date of 2022 set for the launch of Ashford International Studios, supporting the creation of 2,000 jobs and a major new creative hub for the UK. Four new build film studios will be equipped with the highest acoustic and lighting specifications.
Mark Quinn, CEO, Quinn Estates, said: “The decision by Ashford Borough Council’s planning committee to approve Newtown Works is fantastic news, both for the town of Ashford and the broader South-East region.
“Their backing means we can collectively start to rebuild the industry, jobs and momentum temporarily lost as a result of what has been happening globally, building on the investment in the town that has already been made to deliver an exciting new era for Ashford.
“The demand for studio space has never been higher, and the coronavirus pandemic has not changed that. We are also at an exciting stage in the process of attracting a number of private equity and institution backed funds to invest in the site.
“Netflix and Amazon are among those vying for our production space. This decision will mean we will be able to confirm with them that the studios will be open for business in 2022.
“This will allow them to, at last, start the formal process of bidding to occupy our space at Ashford International Studios. Both companies are scheduling production up to three years ahead, and will therefore be able to commit, before we are even in the ground. Quinn Estates would like to acknowledge the council for recognising the value that Newtown Works will bring to the district and its residents.”
Richard Upton, Chief Development Officer at regeneration specialist U+I, commented: “Newtown Works will be a jewel in the crown of the UK’s entertainment industry, enlivening and rejuvenating this previously underused part of Ashford with a creative new community.
“The scheme demonstrates how, through collaboration and creativity, the property industry can work together to deliver homes, generate jobs and create meaningful places even during challenging times.”
Guy Hollaway, from Folkestone-based Hollaway, added: “We are incredibly proud to be the architects of Newtown Works, this is a significant opportunity for Ashford to embrace a new creative industry and resurrect these disused listed buildings, and we look forward to helping to realise this ambition.”
Rainbird and Piers Read , founders of The Creative District Improvement Co. said: “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 UK’s biggest creative hubs.
“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.
“We have the ability to create thousands of jobs for people which is crucial at this time and we will also be able to ensure creative talent and skills are harnessed and nurtured through our planned education centre. We are thrilled that the council recognise the importance of Ashford International Studios and have given consent to this development which will deliver huge opportunities through its massive expansion of the industry in the UK.”
Gavin Cleary, CEO for Locate in Kent, said: “I see Ashford International Studios as a game changer for the creative and digital sector in Kent. A lot of work has gone into bringing this site to the attention of the likes of Amazon and Netfiix and we look forward to hearing more on this, now that planning approval is in place.
“Over the past five years, there has been an explosion in the number of creative businesses across Kent and Medway, with projects like Creative Estuary and the broader Thames Estuary Production Corridor supporting efforts to bring all that creative talent together and put the region on the map. Newtown Works is a key part of that story.
“In addition to the thousands of jobs that the film studios will create, the prospect of a Kent Film School also bodes extremely well for the growth of the creative industries in Kent.”