Marlow Film Studios

from 2026?

 

In 2021 a company called Dido Property Ltd announced that they were proposing a major film studio just to the east of Marlow in Buckinghamshire.  Dido is apparently owned by four local entrepreneurs and arts industry professionals.  The site is currently rough grassland, unsuitable for agriculture as the ground is poor quality, being a light covering of topsoil over a domestic waste tip.  Previously, the area consisted of gravel pits, some of which were filled in and others flooded to form lakes.  The River Thames is not far from the site.

Before that, the area was used as a prison camp in the Second World War and before that, it was part of the land belonging to Westhorpe House, which still stands just to the south of the studio site.

 

The proposed studios occupy an area of 56 acres with the A404 Marlow bypass on the west and the A4155 to the north.  The developers also own a large field to the south, part of which is intended to become a back lot for filming and another nearby which they will landscape and open to the public.  The proposals are not surprisingly being planned with the environment very much in mind.

Phase 2 of the public consultation process opened in October 2021.  The planning application was formally submitted in May 2022 and validated in June.  However, a decision will now not be made until March 2024 so we shouldn’t expect any of these facilities to be up and running before 2026.  Once completed, Dido say they will run the studios themselves.  They are looking at this as an investment in the film industry and are keen to be part of its world-beating success.

The planning application explains how the site will be laid out with stages, workshops, offices, ‘media hub’ etc.  The proposal is for 18 sound stages plus a similar number of workshops, grouped in two clusters enabling a couple of major productions to be underway simultaneously.  So this project is on a similar scale to Shinfield Studios – those will be fully operational by the end of 2023.  They are about a half hour drive away, down the M4.  In recent months, several alterations to the plans have been made in order to comply with various requests and demands.

Marlow Studios sit centrally within the main cluster of film/TV studios in the UK, with Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesden, Elstree, Bray, Shinfield, Winnersh, Longcross, Bovingdon and Arborfield all within relatively easy access.  Perhaps it is worth mentioning that since 2015, more high-end TV and blockbuster movies have been made in the UK than in California.  This area west of London has become the new Hollywood and is therefore where most freelance industry professionals and supporting businesses are based.  A skills and training academy linked to the local university is proposed here and in fact the National Film and Television School at Beaconsfield is only 8 miles away.

 

I can see that this would be a popular place to work for many film actors, directors and HoDs.  Marlow itself is a very attractive old riverside town with a number of high quality restaurants, and a short distance away are Henley and Cookham, which also offer a number of top notch places to eat.  Meanwhile Bray, with its two Michelin 3 star restaurants is only a quarter of an hour away.  And I imagine some A-listers might choose to stay at Cliveden, which is a 12 minute drive from these studios.  Heathrow Terminal 5 is only half an hour from here.

 

I have looked at many proposals for studios over the years and I can say that these are amongst the best thought-out and well presented I have seen.  However, a well-organised local campaign objecting to the studios on environmental, traffic and green belt grounds means that planning permission is far from certain.  Local parish councils have strongly objected to the proposals and planning officers have recommended refusal.  However, the plans are supported by many others including local businesses, educational establishments and people working in the film industry.  At a meeting of Buckinghamshire’s Strategic Sites Committee on October 23rd 2023, the votes were split five votes in favour and five against.  The committee chairman decided with his casting vote that the best course of action was to defer a final decision until March 2024.  In the meantime, further analyses of environmental and traffic-related issues have been undertaken.

In February 2024 Marlow Studios improved the benefits to the local infrastructure including roads and bus services, pledging to spend over £20m.  They also said they would increase the planting of trees to screen the buildings.  The next meeting of the Strategic Sites Committee will be held in May, when hopefully a positive decision will be made.