Our response to Robert Laycock’s Facebook posts

You may have seen a post about Marlow Film Studios from their CEO, Robert Laycock. Here is our response.

Mr Laycock’s “filmmaking career” doesn’t seem to amount to much. His IMDb entry indicates he did some editing work on a few films between 1995 and 1999. His LinkedIn profile says he is a Producer at “Fight & Flight” – a company that has liabilities of £41k and was subject to a compulsory strike of order in 2023. Not quite the background we would expect from someone who wants to build and run a film studio and, to be honest, it doesn’t give us any confidence that he knows much about the film industry at all.

However, he’s right that the UK has a world-class TV & film business. But the sad truth is that it just isn’t growing anymore. The maturation of the streaming industry means that global investment is now forecast to be flat. And the UK’s share of that investment has decreased by 40% with unemployment rates now standing at over 60%.

This isn’t due to a lack of studios, or Covid or the actors strike – it’s because the streaming boom has ended and production activity has returned to normal levels. The boom led to a rapid expansion in the number of UK studios and there are now more than enough of them. In fact, many are now operating at half capacity, expansion plans have
been cancelled and some have actually gone bust. Mr Laycock has missed the boat and if the studio is ever built then it will make a bad situation much worse.

Mr Laycock promises 2,000 new jobs at the studio. Sounds impressive, but there’s no explanation of where these numbers came from. Studios themselves only employ a handful of people (Pinewood employs less than 40, Shinfield less than 10). Almost all the jobs are actually provided by the production companies that rent out the studio space. So the number of jobs is clearly outside Mr Laycock’s control – his estimates are worthless.

Anyway, almost all the jobs at film studios (including non-production work like catering, security and trades) are taken by freelancers who travel wherever the work is. If you’re not already in the TV & film business, then your chances of getting a job there are almost zero.

And with the sky-high unemployment levels, reduced investment and a surplus of studio space, there isn’t any possibility of Marlow Films Studio creating additional employment in the industry. All it can do is to provide an alternative workplace for existing freelancers, most of whom live in West London.

Nothing can be done to prevent the harm caused by the 2,000 of them commuting to and from the studio every day. And the transport proposals offer nothing else of any value. Consequently, Bucks Highways and National Highways have strongly criticised the proposals and both have recommended that the application should be turned down by the planning committee.

That’s because their analysis makes it clear that Marlow Film Studios will lead to:

  • Severe congestion over a wide area
  • Safety issues, particularly on the Westhorpe roundabout
  • Parking on residential streets by film workers, taxi drivers and lorries.

These same problems are experienced on a daily basis by the residents of Iver, who live in the shadow of Pinewood Studios.

Training for local residents? The truth is that they committed to a total of 60 training places a year, with only a fraction of them dedicated to local people. And the budget for this training is just £147 per person per month – check out their planning applications, it’s all there in black and white.

And, by the way, if your kids want to work in the film industry then there are already 15 studios within half an hour’s drive – including Pinewood!

The proposed site was indeed a former landfill site, but it’s not derelict – it’s an area that supports a valuable ecosystem. And, because it’s Greenbelt land, its openness helps to protect the character of Marlow and surrounding villages. A huge, ugly studio that looms over the town and is visible for miles around would totally destroy that character. We want Bucks Council to fulfil their promises and turn the entire area into a proper country park where families can enjoy recreation in nature.

Make no mistake, the only people that could possibly benefit from Marlow Film Studios are Mr Laycock and his colleagues. For the rest of us, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

The facts don’t lie – Vote NO on Thursday.

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