Planning consent was granted last night for the new Ashford International Film Studios.

The £250m studio-led transformation of Kent’s derelict Newtown Railway Works by Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird’s The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI) and Quinn Estates was passed at the first ever virtual meeting of Ashford Borough Council.

Ashford International Studios will be combined with the “UK’s largest” new creative industries cluster including leading education institutions is set to launch early 2022.

Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird, Founders of The Creative District Improvement Co. said: “Amidst this current global pandemic, it is extremely exciting to be given the go-ahead by the council to start work on what will become one of the UK’s biggest creative hubs.  Global streaming giants have already expressed interest in the scheme as demand for their services booms and before there is a huge backlog in production, as people stay at home and burn through original content at record levels. We have the ability to create thousands of jobs for people which is crucial at this time and we will also be able to ensure creative talent and skills are harnessed and nurtured through our planned education centre. We are thrilled that the council recognise the importance of Ashford International Studios and have given consent to this development which will deliver huge opportunities through its massive expansion of the industry in the UK.”

The process of transforming the 15-acre site at Newtown Works, once a locomotive manufacturing company, is set to start “straight away.”

Abandoned in the 1980s, the Grade II listed building, will be converted into 240,000 square feet of dedicated TV & film production space to include a media village, educational centre, hotel and more. TCDI’s sister company Time + Space Studios will be operating the studios and architects Guy Holloway are collaborating on the project.  The project aims to create over 2,000 jobs.

The plan is to make Ashford a new creative hub for the UK with Ashford’s Eurostar stop just moments from the studios, connecting Kent with Netflix’s European hub in Amsterdam and France’s TF1.

The development of Ashford Studios forms part of TCDI’s £500m plans to grow a network of world-class studios in the country.

TCDI Co. recently acquired Twickenham Film Studios and plans to extend the facility in a £50m development deal backed by General Projects and British Airways Pensions that will include film stages, flexible workspace for creative industries with new event and hospitality spaces. Time + Space Studios, the sister company of TCDI, has already committed to operating the Littlewoods Studios in Liverpool which forms part of the expansion strategy.

TCDI, led by their chairman, Anthony Lilley OBE, will establish the Future Media Centre at the Ashford site, the largest new centre dedicated to media education, training skills development and R&D in the country partnering with the local universities and colleges.  The Centre will provide work placements for students in a live film studio complex and support for individuals and companies getting into the industry. They will work with the publicly-funded Thames Estuary Production Corridor; a project that aims to create the world’s largest creative corridor along the Thames Estuary across North Kent and South Essex.

Adrian Wootton OBE, Chief Executive, British Film Commission and Film London, said: “The UK screen industries have been experiencing an exceptional boom time and we look forward to building on this by continuing as an industry to invest in skills and develop our world-class infrastructure. We are of course operating in unprecedented times and the impact of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be felt deeply by screen industries as we work through this ever-evolving situation. Today’s announcement highlights the industry’s commitment to an ongoing strategy to ensure its sustainability, building on the UK’s rich history of attracting filmmakers, nurturing talent and creating world class content.”

Mark Quinn, CEO of the project’s master developer Quinn Estates said: “This is fantastic news, both for the town of Ashford and the broader South-East region. The decision means we can collectively start to rebuild the industry, jobs and momentum temporarily lost as a result of what has been happening globally, building on the investment in the town that has already been made to deliver an exciting new era for Ashford.”

Gavin Cleary, CEO for Locate in Kent, said: “I see Ashford International Studios as a game changer for the creative and digital sector in Kent. A lot of work has gone into bringing this site to the attention of the likes of Amazon and Netfiix and we look forward to hearing more on this, now that planning approval is in place.

“Over the past five years, there has been an explosion in the number of creative businesses across Kent and Medway, with projects like Creative Estuary and the broader Thames Estuary Production Corridor supporting efforts to bring all that creative talent together and put the region on the map. Newtown Works is a key part of that story.”

Staff Reporter