‘Once in a generation film studio-led development gets go-ahead’

Planning approval has been granted for Newtown Works, an ambitious £250m film studio-led regeneration of a derelict railway works in Ashford, Kent, with a number of global streaming giants poised to back the scheme.

Ashford Borough Council’s planning committee approved the ‘game changing’ planning application last night (Wednesday 22 April), green lighting the transformation of the railway works site, which has been abandoned since the 1980s. The development will put Ashford on the map as a key UK hub for the creative industries, boosted further by fast connections to London and Europe from the adjacent international station.

Formal bidding starts 

The decision will also launch a formal bidding process for studio space with a number of leading production companies expected to be bidding for space.

Work to deliver 200,000 sq. ft of dedicated production space will begin immediately with a target date of 2022 set for the launch of Ashford International Studios, supporting the creation of 2,000 jobs and a major new creative hub for the UK. Four new build film studios will be equipped with the highest acoustic and lighting specifications.

The project’s master developer Quinn Estates, working with its funding partner U+I, and operator The Creative District Improvement Company, alongside award-winning architects Hollaway, have spent more than three years developing the project.

Locomotive sheds repurposed

Quinn Estates will also deliver a 120-bed hotel and repurpose Grade II listed locomotive sheds for mixed commercial and residential use, including workshops and 300 apartments with space for a new Kent Film School, in partnership with local universities and colleges. A roof-top restaurant and a 383-space multi-storey car park are also incorporated into the development.

Mark Quinn, CEO, Quinn Estates, said:

“The decision by Ashford Borough Council’s planning committee to approve Newtown Works is fantastic news, both for the town of Ashford and the broader South-East region.

“Their backing 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.

“The demand for studio space has never been higher, and the coronavirus pandemic has not changed that. We are also at an exciting stage in the process of attracting a number of private equity and institution backed funds to invest in the site.

Studios to open in 2022

“This decision will mean we will be able to confirm with production companies that the studios will be open for business in 2022.

“This will allow them to, at last, start the formal process of bidding to occupy our space at Ashford International Studios. Both companies are scheduling production up to three years ahead, and will therefore be able to commit, before we are even in the ground. Quinn Estates would like to acknowledge the council for recognising the value that Newtown Works will bring to the district and its residents.”

Richard Upton, Chief Development Officer at regeneration specialist U+I, commented:

“Newtown Works will be a jewel in the crown of the UK’s entertainment industry, enlivening and rejuvenating this previously underused part of Ashford with a creative new community.

“The scheme demonstrates how, through collaboration and creativity, the property industry can work together to deliver homes, generate jobs and create meaningful places even during challenging times.”

Guy Hollaway, from Folkestone-based Hollaway, added:

“We are incredibly proud to be the architects of Newtown Works, this is a significant opportunity for Ashford to embrace a new creative industry and resurrect these disused listed buildings, and we look forward to helping to realise this ambition.”

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 UKs 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.”

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 leading production companies 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.

“In addition to the thousands of jobs that the film studios will create, the prospect of a Kent Film School also bodes extremely well for the growth of the creative industries in Kent.”

For more information on Newtown Works, please click here.