Published: 00:01, 14 March 2019
| Updated: 10:32, 14 March 2019
Video streaming giant Netflix is set to make new film and TV studios in Ashford its UK base, KentOnline understands.
The prolific developer says he is in discussions with a number of international content providers and is unable to confirm or deny which firm is moving in.
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But it is believed subscription service Netflix - which is looking for additional studio space across Europe - has its sights set on the 12-acre plot.
The online giant has millions of subscribers worldwide, with viewers able to stream films and programmes to devices including TVs and mobile phones.
As well as making Hollywood hits available for subscribers to stream, Netflix also makes its own productions - something which could happen in Ashford if the bold project goes ahead.
Mr Quinn says the huge redevelopment of the abandoned railway works will create 3,000 jobs.
On Tuesday, he submitted a screening opinion request to Ashford Borough Council (ABC) which marks the first step of the planning process.
It is an application asking the council whether or not any future planning application needs to include an environmental impact assessment.
If built, Mr Quinn says the site will become a “major European filming hub”.
“This project will make us the biggest regeneration specialists in Kent and I’m very proud of it,” he said.
“The buildings will go from making trains to making films. The growth of filming in Kent is enormous at the moment and this will turbo-charge it.”
A 180-bedroom five-star hotel, workshops, restaurants and cafes are also planned for the development, as well as 400 parking spaces.
Professor Tim Luckhurst from the Centre for Journalism on Netflix's mega growth
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.
Mr Quinn plans to increase the height of the former workshops to make room for the studios while keeping the existing external walls.
“The buildings either get reused or fall down,” he said.
“What we are offering is a viable and vibrant project. We have to make sure we take into consideration our neighbours but compared to what it could be, it will be far more sympathetic.
“It could have become housing but this is far more exciting and creative.”
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, leader of Ashford Borough Council, described the scheme as “yet another exciting development for the town”.
He said: “The proposal involves finding a new use for one of the longest listed buildings in the country and transforming a brownfield site which has laid dormant for many years, into a TV and film studio and hotel.
“Now this must be subject to the rigours of the planning system.
“There is a planning process which needs to be adhered to, therefore we await more details on this proposal coming forward in due course so that full consultation can take place.”
Mr Quinn - who bought the site last year - says he hopes to submit a planning application in July with a view to commencing work in the first quarter of next year.
Developers say they plan to bring the site’s former gate house and clock tower “back to life”.
Netflix - which has been in talks about setting up a production hub at Pinewood Studios - has been approached for comment by KentOnline but has not responded.
The California-based company started as a DVD rental service in 1997 before moving into online streaming.
Last year, the number of UK subscriptions to traditional pay television was overtaken by those to streaming services like Netflix for the first time.
Quinn Estates and funding partners U+I are working with Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird from The Creative District Improvement Company - a firm which specialises in the development of mixed-use schemes for the creative industries.
Mr Rainbird, who grew up in Bethersden, says the Newtown project is “crucial to the whole of the UK’s film and TV industry”.
'This is not only huge for Ashford and Kent, but it’s massive news for the UK TV and film industry also...' - Jeremy Rainbird
He said: “We are in a golden age of content but if we do not invest in Britain, we will lose the work to Europe.
“This is not only huge for Ashford and Kent, but it’s massive news for the UK TV and film industry also.
“For every £1 spent by the content provider hiring the space, £18 will go back in the local economy, including restaurants, accommodation and hire car companies.
“The plans are making use of every square inch of the building.
“Mark is very entrepreneurial and these buildings are perfect for film studios.”
To view the screening opinion request, visit www.ashford.gov.uk and search for 19/00003/EIA/AS.
More by this authorDan Wright