Published: 06:00, 10 May 2021
| Updated: 16:26, 10 May 2021
The opening of multi-million pound film studios linked to Netflix, Amazon and HBO has been delayed by a year due to the pandemic.
Prolific development company Quinn Estates gained planning permission last April for its huge scheme on the site of the former Newtown railway works in Ashford.
Bosses had hoped to open the studios next year after preparatory works started last summer, but are now targeting the first quarter of 2023.
They say it is "unlikely" a 120-room hotel – which was set to go over 18 storeys – will feature in the £250m project.
But Jeremy Rainbird, whose Creative District Improvement Company has teamed up with Quinn Estates, says the need for new studio space has never been greater.
"Due to the impact Covid-19 has had on the UK economy and in particular the travel sector, be that business or leisure, it is unlikely we will be continuing with a hotel-led scheme for the obvious reasons," he said.
"However, one of the big successes during the Covid era of our lives has been the world of TV/film via streaming services, all of which report huge upswings in subscriptions and viewing hours over the previous 12-plus months.
"As such, the studio industry, driven by unprecedented demand, is busier than ever and demand is at an all-time high.
"It's not just due to Covid, but the year-on-year upswing trajectory our industry has seen since 2013 and continues to see through Covid-19 and beyond."
During a meeting of Ashford Borough Council (ABC)'s economic regeneration and investment board earlier this year, the authority discussed the possibility of buying the site.
In the minutes published following the discussion, it said "members preferred the option to secure the freehold interest for the council, but expressed concerns about the level of borrowing".
It added: "Another member noted that it was unclear whether there was still a market for studios of this nature and that further research was needed to clarify this point."
In response to this, Mr Rainbird said: "We cannot possibly comment on ABC and any involvement it may or may not be looking at in support of the studios at Newtown works.
"But what I can say is that, as a result of this phenomenal demand in the UK, studios represent an excellent investment opportunity for anyone in the UK today.
"Especially a local authority not only looking for commercial levels of return on its money, but also valuable jobs for its constituents. Studios offer both – now and in the future."
In a statement, an ABC spokesman said: "Due to the council having successfully invested in other important development projects within the borough, we have been approached to see if we are interested in investing in this key project for Ashford.
"Any potential investment decision by the council needs to be thoroughly looked into and decisions are always made with the benefits to the community and local economy in mind.
“The members of the economic regeneration and investment board initially discussed the merits of this opportunity and concluded that further investigation is needed before committing any further.
"Once this has been undertaken further discussion with members will take place before any decision is made.”
Called the Ashford International Studios, Quinn Estates will redevelop the Grade II-listed locomotive sheds for mixed commercial and residential use as part of the scheme, including workshops and 300 flats with space for a new Kent Film School.
A rooftop restaurant and a 383-space multi-storey car park will also be included in the development.
The historic clock tower close to the Newtown railway bridge will be retained at the site, which has been abandoned since the 1980s.
Bosses are yet to confirm which company will take on the studios, but Netflix, Amazon and HBO have all been linked to the project.
In a statement released last year, Quinn Estates said Netflix and Amazon are "among a number of global streaming giants poised to back the scheme".