Published: 06:00, 11 July 2019
Entertainment giants including Amazon, HBO and Disney+ could fill new film and TV studios in Ashford after developers signed a deal with an established regeneration company.
KentOnline revealed in March how streaming giant Netflix was set to move into derelict engine sheds on the former railway works in Newtown Road.
Bosses hoping to build the multi-million pound scheme say they are still in talks with the paid subscription service, but are also in discussions with nine other global entertainment brands - including Netflix rivals Amazon - about taking on the 12-acre plot.
It was announced last week that Netflix had struck a deal to set up a permanent production base at Shepperton Studios in west London, but developers say the streaming service is also looking at the Ashford scheme.
The bold studio project took a step forward this week after Quinn Estates, which is behind the project, signed a deal with The Creative District Improvement Co (TCDICo) to operate the site once built.
A planning application, which is expected to include plans for a 180-bedroom hotel, office space and apartments as well as the studios, is due to be submitted to Ashford Borough Council (ABC) in September.
If approved, work to transform the site will start as early as next year, bosses say.
Quinn Estates plans to increase the height of the former railway workshops to make room for the studios while keeping the existing external walls.
Huw Evans, the development company's managing director, said: “From our point of view this agreement provides us with the confidence to now submit a planning application and progress this transformational proposal.
“Over the summer we will continue to work closely with TCDICo and others to finalise our proposals with a view to submitting a formal planning application this September.
“Subject to planning consent by the local planning authority we anticipate being in a position to start on site in the second quarter of 2020.
"We’re encouraged by progress so far and are looking forward to sharing more over the coming months on this exciting new phase in Ashford’s regeneration.”
"If you look at the rich varied locations around Kent - and the fast connections to London, Amsterdam and Paris - you suddenly realise the potential a production hub in Ashford could have" - Jeremy Rainbird
TCDICo specialises in the development and operation of mixed-use schemes for the creative industries.
When KentOnline revealed the studio plan in March, seven studios were planned, but bosses now say three or four are set to be proposed.
TCDICo's Jeremy Rainbird said: “We’re delighted to have signed heads of terms with Quinn Estates to develop and operate the studios.
“The boom in content, that the whole world is seeing, is going to come to Ashford, generating far in excess of 1,000 indirect and direct jobs.
“What we will end up with is a minimum of between three and four 20,000 sq ft sized stages of a world-class standard that could shoot any of the major TV shows and independent films you’d see around the world today.
“We’re talking to eight to 10 of the largest end users in the world, including HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+ and Lucasfilm and they’re all looking at the scheme right now.”
Bosses say the Newtown site will become a "full eco-system of film-related creative businesses" - featuring post production, special effects and kit hire.
“Kent Film Office makes up 44% of the filming in the south east of England today,” Mr Rainbird added.
“If you look at the rich varied locations around Kent - and the fast connections to London, Amsterdam and Paris - you suddenly realise the potential a production hub in Ashford could have.
“A lot of European businesses are going to have to open offices in the UK post Brexit.
"Why go to London and pay £100 per sq ft?
"Come to Ashford and get amazing facilities for significantly less in a purpose-built creative quarter, four minutes’ walk from Ashford International and a five-minute drive from the motorway.
"It’s a no-brainer.”
"The boom in content, that the whole world is seeing, is going to come to Ashford" - Jeremy Rainbird
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.
Developers say they plan to bring the site’s former gate house and clock tower “back to life” as part of the scheme.
Read more: All the latest news from Ashford