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Should Hollywood look north after latest southern snub?

Buckinghamshire Council rejected proposals for a 36 hectare production site despite being backed by the likes of Avatar director James Cameron and actor and filmmaker Andy Serkis.
Buckinghamshire Council rejected proposals for a 36 hectare production site despite being backed by the likes of Avatar director James Cameron and actor and filmmaker Andy Serkis.

Hollywood bigwigs have been called on to look north to stage their latest box office hits after the UK film industry was dealt another major blow recently as £750m plans for a new film studio in Buckinghamshire were quashed.

Already home to Pinewood and Shepperton studios, planners at Buckinghamshire Council rejected proposals for a 36-hectare production site despite being backed by the likes of Avatar director James Cameron and actor and filmmaker Andy Serkis.

In the aftermath of the decision West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin took to X (formerly Twitter) to call on film supremos to consider investing in Yorkshire instead of always defaulting to the South East.

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The application by Marlow Film Studios was refused on the grounds it would encroach on greenbelt land – the same reason given for rejecting an expansion of Sky Studios Elstree North just three months prior.

Buckinghamshire Council has refused planning permission for a £750m film studio, backed by Avatar director James Cameron and other high-profile Hollywood names.
Buckinghamshire Council has refused planning permission for a £750m film studio, backed by Avatar director James Cameron and other high-profile Hollywood names.

But while it appears the South might be falling out of love with Hollywood, the North is poised and ready to capitalise.

Last December work started on a film studio on the site of the former Littlewoods pools business in Liverpool, which when finished will create 40,000 sq ft of production space.

The recently approved Crown Works Studios in Sunderland, part-funded by the production company behind The Kardashians, will pave the way to create thousands of jobs across the north of England.

Brabin, who left a career in soaps to pursue politics eight years ago, said: “Unlike in some places, creative companies moving to West Yorkshire will always receive a warm welcome.

“West Yorkshire is a creative crucible, with the fastest growing cultural sector outside of London.

“As mayor, I am keen to work with the cultural industries to bring more jobs and opportunities to our region.

“I want to build on our reputation as the best place outside of London for creative talent in virtual production, music, film and TV.”

Hollywood’s North-South divide 

Historically, the North has been overlooked by Hollywood.

The vast majority of the UK’s large-scale film studios – categorised by the British Film Commission as having at least one stage over 15,000 sq ft – are clustered around London, with production facilities in the south outnumbering the rest of the country 25 to five.

The financial implications of this are huge.

Every 100,000 sq ft of stage space contributes between £60m and £80m to the surrounding economy, according to a 2024 study commissioned by Hounslow Borough Council.

The sector has already added £2bn to West Yorkshire’s economy alone, and employs 50,000 local people.

Historically, this imbalance has been driven by the need to be close to an international airport, with the likes of Gatwick and Heathrow making the region an easy sell.

But with increasing cost pressures shutting down business at Winnersh film studios in Berkshire and delaying construction of Sunset Waltham Cross studios, due to be built in Hertfordshire, the North could soon find itself perfectly positioned to convince Hollywood to look beyond the South East bubble.