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Coronavirus Kent: Decision on Hollywood-style Newtown film studio plan in Ashford delayed

A decision on whether to allow Hollywood-style film studios to be built in Kent has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bosses want to turn the derelict Newtown railway works site in Ashford into a huge new complex featuring four studios, an 120-bedroom hotel, educational hub, film school and 303 apartments in the former engine sheds.

The site from above
The site from above

The £250m scheme had been recommended for approval and the developers were hoping to get planning permission at a meeting of Ashford Borough Council (ABC) on Wednesday, but all meetings have now been postponed by the authority for an indefinite period due to Covid-19.

Quinn Estates has teamed up with regeneration specialists The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co) on the project and submitted a planning application last year, saying the scheme will create 3,000 jobs.

But Ashford council has now confirmed it has called off all public meetings - days after a group of councillors asked bosses to stop all meetings in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Before the meeting was halted, bosses said they hoped to break ground by the end of this year, with the project scheduled for opening in 2021.

If the scheme is approved, entertainment giants including Netflix could take on the studios, which bosses say will house single camera feature film or drama productions.

How part of the site could look
How part of the site could look

In a statement released this week, the developers said: "Ashford’s Eurostar stop connects Kent with Netflix’s European hub in Amsterdam and France’s most popular network TF1 linking the UK with Europe in a post-Brexit world, serving as the country’s creative linchpin and capitalising on the studio boom created by US streaming giants."

In the application submitted to ABC last year, planning agent Iceni Projects says the studios will offer a first-class range of facilities over 7,440 sq m of space.

“In the single camera set-up, each of the various shots and camera angles are taken using the same camera, or multiple cameras pointed in one direction, which are moved and reset to get each shot or new angle,” it said.

“Single-camera is mostly reserved for prime-time dramas, made-for-TV movies, music videos and commercial advertisements.

"Examples of this include: The Crown, Downton Abbey, Stranger Things, Mission Impossible or the Avengers.

A map of how the Newtown site could look
A map of how the Newtown site could look
The derelict sheds at the Newtown works
The derelict sheds at the Newtown works

“In recent times, major streaming services like Netflix have built their business model and entire platforms by developing original content around single camera feature films and drama productions.”

Built in 1847, the railway works site was created to serve the London Dover Railway.

It grew over the next 100 years as it took on more work from Battersea and, although damaged in the Second World War, it remained a locomotive works until 1962 when the work was transferred to Eastleigh.

Many of the buildings were demolished over the next 20 years and what remains is the shell of the original workshops.

The site includes five Grade II-listed buildings and bosses say they will work withthe University of Kent on the project to create a "highly diverse talent pool".

Quinn Estates has teamed up with TCDI Co to work on the scheme
Quinn Estates has teamed up with TCDI Co to work on the scheme
A view of the scheme from above, with the studios on the left
A view of the scheme from above, with the studios on the left

As part of the scheme, the hotel, which would go over 18 storeys, would become the town’s largest building, featuring a conference centre, restaurant and 62 serviced apartments.

Gavin Cleary, CEO of investment promotion group Locate in Kent, supports the scheme.

He said: “Newtown Works has the potential to be a game-changer for a county that is already putting down a marker as a key and growing UK location for the creative and digital industries with more to come as growing clusters in towns across Kent increasingly gain international attention.

“The Creative District Improvement Company has given the county its vote of confidence by including Ashford within its £500 million investment in a network of film studios across the UK and we look forward to seeing their exciting proposals become a reality.

“We see Newtown Works as being a transformative project for the creative and digital industries here in Kent but not just for the jobs it will create or the vibrancy that it will add to the area.

New images have been released by developers of the project
New images have been released by developers of the project
How the huge hotel could look by the old clock tower
How the huge hotel could look by the old clock tower

"There is a real opportunity here to plan for the long term, building skills and opportunities that will support growth for years to come.

"With Newtown Works, projects like the government-backed Creative Estuary and an embracing of trends towards more flexible working - including co-working space - we are entering an exciting phase for growth and opportunities in this sector and the county as a whole."

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