Sunset Waltham Cross Studios

originally from 2026 – but opening now delayed.

 

image thanks to Leonard Design Architects

 

In August 2021 an announcement was made by US firms Blackstone and Hudson Pacific that they were planning to build a large new film studio centre in Broxbourne, north London – about a mile from the OMA One and OMA X studios in Waltham Cross, which opened in 2020 and 2021.  It is about 24 miles east of Leavesden and 17 miles from Borehamwood, where several existing and planned studios are located.

This will be a development by Sunset Studios, who are based in California.  Movies such as La La Land and When Harry Met Sally were filmed on their stages but their history goes right back to the earliest days of Hollywood and TV shows like I Love Lucy.  The site is next to the A10 at Junction 25 on the M25 and covers 91 acres.  They are proposing a scheme with about 125,000 sq metres of production space including 21 sound stages plus workshops, offices and amenities.  The stages are of various sizes and mostly arranged in blocks of two or three.  The total floor area for the stages is around 470,000 sq ft – an average of 22,400 sq ft but some are much larger than this.  There will also be a back lot of around 30,000 sq metres.  The architects are Leonard Design.

The facilities will be arranged in ‘hubs’, enabling 4 films or high-end TV productions to be made at the same time.  Two large car parks are included but the studios will also run free shuttle buses to local railway stations.  Cycling to the studios will also be encouraged.  A large area of accessible open space to the south of the studios will be made available and the area next to the river will also be landscaped.  Existing farm buildings will be restored and become part of the studios’ facilities.  Solar panels will be installed throughout the site.  The development is expected to provide around 4,800 jobs once fully up and running.

The construction will cost £700m and has the support of the government and the local authority, who have been consulted throughout the design process.  Consultation with the local community began in the autumn of 2021.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  Planning permission was submitted in March 2022 and was granted in July 2022.  According to the press, the owners anticipated opening in 2026.  In fact, in March 2024, the studios’ website still said ‘Opening 2026.’

 

This is the area where the studios will be built.
thanks to Googlemaps
The proposed siting of the 21 stages, workshops and other facilities.

 

Unfortunately, in the summer of 2023 there were several reports that construction work on the studios had been put on hold.  A Screen Daily news release on 13th July stated: 

‘Last week Sunset Studios, owned by Blackstone and Hudson Pacific, paused construction on its planned new £600m facility in Hertfordshire amid wariness about rising costs. Blackstone declined to comment and uncertainty remains over the owners’ long-term intentions for the facility.’

The report also stated:

‘UK studios are facing a challenging few months as uncertainty about a potential rise in the rate of property taxes for facilities in England and Wales rages on, and the ongoing US writers’ and expected actors’ strikes force a slowdown in the once torrential flow of film and high-budget TV from Hollywood.’

‘Significant business rates hikes of up to 200%-300% are being mooted as a result of increases in the rateable value of these facilities made by the UK’s Valuation Office Agency (VOA).  For existing studios, the increases, which were due to start in April, will be phased in over three years.  However, new studios will have to pay the full amount from the outset.  Frantic lobbying is taking place to ensure the rates increases are not too punishing.’

‘“If [the rises at the top rate go] ahead, that could be a death blow for many of the studio businesses in the UK,” warns Iain Smith, chairman of the British Film Commission’s national advisory board.’

 

The March 2024 Budget included the welcome news that film studios would receive a 40% reduction on business rates, so hopefully that will enable this scheme to proceed.

Despite the apparent pause in construction, the Sunset Studios website has been reporting the news that the studios are planning to expand onto land currently owned by a country club.  The area will be used as a backlot and the former clubhouse will be demolished and workshops constructed there instead.  So it looks possible that the studios are indeed just temporarily held up and will be going ahead in due course after all.