Sky/Universal Studios, Elstree

from 2022

(revised March 2024)

 

sky elstree aerial view 450p

In December 2019, Comcast (the owners of Sky TV and Universal Pictures) made the surprising announcement that they were planning to build a large film studio centre in Borehamwood.  The site is at the eastern end of Elstree Way, between Rowley Lane and the A1, a few dozen metres from where the old MGM film studios were located.  Some of the land was at that time a lorry park. 

So, just to be clear – these studios are in Borehamwood, not Elstree, but the owners decided to call them ‘Sky Studios Elstree.’  An interesting choice of name.  Since most of the films and HETV productions made here will be for cinema release and the international TV market, not just the UK’s Sky TV, one might have expected them to be called Universal Studios.

 

The site is 32 acres and contains 12 sound stages starting at 10,000 sq ft up to 40,000sq ft.  There is also over 250,000 sq ft of workshop space, five fully kitted-out production offices and six acres of backlot.  Some stages are able to be combined to create an area of 60,000 sq ft or reduced to become smaller spaces.  The land is owned by Legal and General, who have also part-funded the project.

Sustainability has been built into the design and operation of the site, with the ambition to becoming the most sustainable film and TV studio in the world.  The campus is powered by over 16,000 solar panels which are placed across every rooftop, any remaining energy needs are sourced from a renewable supplier.  The studios harvest rainwater, use sustainable LED lighting and electric vehicles plus all operations are free from single-use plastic.

 

sky studios boremwd updated plan 450p

The studios are home to Sky originals, as well as films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Working Title, and TV series from Universal Studio Group.  Other companies will be able to hire the facilities too when space is available.  Sky plan to invest £3bn in new production at the site over 5 years.

Planning permission has not been granted for studio audiences to use these facilities so they will not be used for multicamera TV entertainment shows.  These stages are purely intended for high-end TV drama and feature films.

 

Planning permission was granted in July 2020 and work was well under way throughout 2021.  The first stage was due to be available from April 2022 with the rest following throughout the year.  The first project to be based here was Universal Pictures’ adaptation of Wicked, which is being delivered as two films.  This was delayed during much of 2023 due to the US actors’ strike.  The final stage – Stage 5 – was officially opened by Prince Edward on 9th March 2023, a day before he became the Duke of Edinburgh.  By autumn 2023 the studios had hosted two major film productions as well as a number of smaller projects.  One of these was Paddington in Peru, which commenced filming in July.  In March 2024 it was announced that the next blockbuster in the Jurassic World franchise would be made here later in the year.

The land immediately to the north of this site is also owned by Legal and General and part of it has been granted 3 years’ planning permission from August 2022 to be used as a back lot. In March 2024 Hertsmere Council agreed a ‘Development Consent Order’ which means that the studios can build temporary sets without having to apply for planning permission each time they are needed for a production.  This is a very sensible arrangement and is the same as the one that applies to the Albert Square set at BBC Elstree Centre.  The land currently being used as a back lot is where Sky wish to build 10 more stages.  More on this below. 

 

image thanks to Sky Studios and Chris Lobina
Stage 2
image thanks to Sky Studios and Chris Lobina

 

In September 2022 it was revealed that Sky Studios had taken out a lease on two huge new industrial buildings on the site of the old MGM British Studios, close by on the other side of Rowley Lane.  This area is now known as Panattoni Park.  These are being used as workshops and scenery/prop storage.  The Development Consent Order referred to above also applies to these buildings.

 

In 2021 Hertsmere Council designated the block of land between the A1 and the existing development in Borehamwood a ‘Media Quarter’.  The Sky studios represent only a fraction of this.  To the north is land owned by Legal and General and north of that a large area owned by Gilston Investments Ltd where it is proposed to build Hertswood Studios, with 21 stages.

Borehamwood’s Media Quarter.  A is the Sky Studios, C is the proposed Hertswood Studios and B is land owned by Legal and General, upon which they want to build 10 more stages.

 

Sky Studios Elstree North

 

In April 2021 Legal and General put forward the site adjoining the Sky Studios (marked ‘B’ above) for consideration under Hertsmere Borough Council’s ‘Call for Employment Sites’ 2021 appeal.  They were suggesting that even more sound stages could be built here.  It is currently undeveloped open land that was previously earmarked for a centre of sporting excellence.  That planning permission was not implemented and has now expired. 

In June 2022 some further information was released.  Sky revealed its intention to construct a further 10 stages plus supporting facilities on this site.  They sent out letters to local residents explaining their proposal and inviting comments.  This site is being called Sky Studios Elstree North.   As part of this scheme, Sky is also proposing to build a new ‘Sky Up Academy’ for students aged 14 to 18.  Apparently, further ideas include a museum celebrating the screen heritage of the town, which will be a popular idea with many people.  A back lot of 5 acres is also included in these proposals.  This will be used by productions based on both Sky Elstree sites.

The stages are as follows:  1 at 40,000 sq ft, 2 at 25,0000 sq ft, 5 at 20,000 sq ft and 2 at 10,000 sq ft.

A planning application was submitted in September 2022.  A decision is expected in May 2024.  It is not 100% clear which way this will go.  As well as a great deal of support for the scheme, some people and organisations were objecting – mostly on loss of Green Belt grounds.  However, the scheme has government support so that will possibly influence the decision.

 

In the foreground are the existing new Sky Studios.  Above them are the proposed additional facilities and the fields to the north of that are where Hertswood Studios will be located, if given planning permission.
image thanks to Sky
The layout of the facilities in Sky Elstree Studios North.

 

As an interesting aside – most of the Bond films have been made at Pinewood.  However, those studios are now fully booked by Disney.  No Time To Die was distributed by Universal Pictures so it seems possible that Bond 26 could be filmed here in Borehamwood.  You heard it here first!