The current BBC Wild Isles program is not only showcasing the amazing wildlife we have in the UK, but also highlights the rapid decline and identifies the need for us to act to bring about nature recovery through restoration.
The 90 acres of wildlife and biodiversity-rich habitats, home to multiple priority and protected species, is such a vital lifeline but at risk of being concreted over for yet another film studio.
We are facing a climate and nature crisis. Unnecessary and inappropriate developments like the proposed Marlow Film Studios, on these precious habitats, is reckless and irresponsible, when more suitable alternatives are available.
“Whoever you are, wherever you live, we must all play a role in restoring nature. Whether you’re an individual, a community, a business leader or a politician, together we can use our decisions, and time, to bring nature back to life.”
Sir David Attenborough
Please object to inappropriate development in Marlow’s Greenbelt and submit your comments even if you have done this before! Buckinghamshire Council have put a new deadline of 9th April.
Dido Property Limited have submitted amended plans and Buckinghamshire Council is inviting new comments. Obviously, all of this amounts to window-dressing without addressing the fundamental issue of an unnecessary monstrosity in Marlow’s Greenbelt.
Please object and submit your comments even if you have done this before! Buckinghamshire Council have put a deadline of 9th April and it is again unclear whether this is a “soft” or “hard” deadline.
You can add your own reasons why, but our top reasons, underpinned by our planning consultant’s report (to be released soon), are:
The integrity of the Greenbelt should be protected. Even at a national level, the Government has committed to protecting and enhancing the Greenbelt.
The “sequential test” is flawed and just a self-serving exercise to try and claim that Dido Property Limited’s land is “most preferable”.
The economic analysis performed by LSH on behalf of the Council clearly states that there is sufficient studio capacity in the pipeline, the proposed scale is unnecessary and the requirement of the “West London Cluster” is overstated.
The proposed changes, e.g. to transport, do not change the underlying flawed logic to destroy the Greenbelt and the Little Marlow Lakes Country Park.
If you want it easy, you can use this one-click link to generate an email in your standard email app, ready to send & object.
While you are at it – don’t forget to ask friends & family from across the UK to object as well. Distance appears to be no issue to support, so why should it be to object?
Guernsey-registered Dido Property Limited have submitted “improvements” to their traffic plan by introducing a massive round about on the A4155. However, the congestion caused by more than two thousand extra vehicles is not going to be mitigated by a roundabout. The A404 and A4155 Marlow Road simply don’t have the capacity. National Highways has expressed serious concerns about the developer’s traffic model and this attempt to appease them is akin to repositioning a couple of deckchairs on the Titanic. In no way does it address the fundamental issue or does compensate it for the huge damage that this monstrous development will cause.
Under the title “The Berkshire film studio bringing Hollywood magic to the UK”, the BBC has published an article on their exclusive access to the film studios under construction at Shinfield (near Reading).
You can look at the 360° video of the construction site on the article page. It gives you a good idea of what a film studio actually looks like: a very big warehouse…
Property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton have cast serious doubt on claims by Marlow Film Studios that the proposed site is the only viable location and that refusal of the plan would have a negative effect on the future of the UK film and High-End Television (HETV) industry.
The 20-page report “struggles” with the proposal’s argument that the studio’s success is dependent upon its proximity to a “Critical Mass” of film production professionals from the “West London Cluster” (WLC). It slams the applicant’s claim that “the WLC is the only place in the UK that can attract major HETV” as “fundamentally untrue” and states that “there is now precedent and acceptance amongst the production fraternity that other locations now present viable and cost effective options with both the infrastructure and the degree of established crew to facilitate production”. Numerous examples are provided to back this up including “Game of Thrones” which was based in Belfast.
This is a major setback for Marlow Film Studios because it undermines the “sequential analysis” used to justify building on the Green Belt in Little Marlow.
The LSH report also points out that the Marlow Film Studios case rests on an assumption that there will be a significant gap between the growing demand for studio space and the amount under development.
The report says
We consider the submission’s development pipeline estimates to materially understate the potential sites under consideration …. we consider the combination of sites recently delivered, sites with planning consent or expansion to existing facilities if all built out to be sufficient to address the majority of unmet demand
Richard Sherwin, Chairman of Save Marlow’s Greenbelt, which opposes the studio plan says:
This report supports our belief that these property developers don’t understand the film industry and that they only selected Little Marlow because Green Belt land offers bigger profits. The studio will offer insignificant benefits and it is now clear that it could be successfully built elsewhere without the devastating impact on our town, our environment and our roads. Bucks Council must refuse the application.
With the film studio planning application still undecided (and as yet unclear when the Bucks Strategic Sites Committee will meet about it – so you can still object) and the van storage application withdrawn, two new planning applications have appeared in the Little Marlow Lakes Country Park.
The first one (planning application 22/08176/FUL) is to put in place 5 grass football pitches next to the Athletics track (and thus involving Buckinghamshire Council). It is not as extensive as ideas being floated in 2021, but strange nonetheless.
This is what the proposal looks like:
The ground will be levelled, the pitches will be put in place, together with some other “biodiversity improvements” (hedgerows, trees, wildflowers) as per their plan. However, it is unclear how anyone is expected to access these pitches from either the footpath (blocked by an existing and retained hedgerow) or the car park (from the “retained grassland” indicated as parking above on which they are parked, through the “wildflower grassland”?). How long before it all turns into a mudbath?
Another curiosity is the applicant. in one document the customer is listed as “Brenard Leisure” – the closest we can find is Brenard Properties Limited, linked to Michael Shanly (one of its directors). Some of the documents also have their title as the document location: P:\1293 Shanly Group Little Marlow\8.0 Drawings in Progress\8.2 Revit\01-WIP Data\1293 Site Plan Reduced option.pdf
So there will be just football pitches. “For the avoidance of doubt, no floodlighting, seating, changing, clubhouse, or other buildings/structures are proposed as part of this planning application.”
Who will use a football pitch during the day, with only natural lighting? Not that many people, but it is about the principle of having pitches available:
“The football pitches will be available for use by the local community and clubs. The applicant is currently in discussion with a number of local football teams / clubs who have identified a need for both training and match pitches. The application seeks to establish the principle of pitches on this site to enable these discussions to continue.”
So no lighting etc. in this application. But an intention to seek a variation on the approved planning application to make full use of the pitches, with additional buildings and floodlighting. Yes, now it makes sense.
It is clear that the application as proposed will not be useful to the community or the general public – is it just preparing the ground, literally, for something that will have a major impact on the community and Greenbelt?
Car parking on Fieldhouse Lane
Meanwhile, in the southwestern corner of the Little Marlow Lakes Country Park, Folbo Y Ltd seeks to make its temporary car park permanent (planning application 22/08240/FUL), plus expand it from 200 to 271 spaces.
The current temporary planning consent for the car park for 200 spaces expires on 31st January 2023, so there is a bit of time pressure on this one! That explains why comments need to be in by then… An application in July 2021 was refused on it being inappropriate development in the Green Belt, on “a failure to contribute towards the outdoor recreational function of the (…) Country Park” and on a lack of positive impact on biodiversity.
So this planning application offers some olive branches to address this:
the car park will be open to members of the public at the weekend
“upgrades to the existing footpath and cycleway” – or rather no longer blocking the path which we claimed in 2021.
plant more native trees and species, and mitigate flood risk
No EV chargers or secure bike parking facilities though, so it is definitely not future-proofed.
If this planning application is not approved at the end of the month – will the car park be decommissioned, removed or just abandoned? Where will the Softcat commuters go? On the portal, there is already support from people on the Harleyford Estate (linked to Folbro Y Ltd?) and from Maidenhead & Wantage…
Who will the car parking benefit, really? Softcat, who provided the needs statement? The public, to visit the Country Park – but at what cost? Or the film studio out of usual hours, with a path linking to the main footpath that links to the heart of their monstrous proposal?
You can add your comments via the planning portal or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the planning reference number (one email per planning application). Don’t forget to add your name and address when you use this route. Save Marlow’s Greenbelt is seeking more information and considering its position on both proposals.
The presentations showed promising and idyllic scenes of a new & widened footpath alongside the stream.
And what is the first to go? Public amenity improvements, such as the new, widened footpath and lighting to the footpaths. What a surprise – and a stark warning for when the economic reality inevitably meets the film studio plan.
Importantly, the scheme now also removes any work to the east of the “siphon structure”, near the Spinney Path at the south-western tip of Roach Lake in the Little Marlow Lakes Country Park. In the next 9 months, Jacobs intend to assess the flood risk in this area. The outcome of that will undoubtedly show that a film studio, if approved, represents a major concern.
Any flood alleviation work will be subject to planning consent (expected 2023/204) and is only to be expected to be finished “later in 2025”. That still means 2-3 years of misery for those who depend on the Newt Ditch for their flood protection in Marlow…
First, the officer questions why there is no mention of the benefits of developing “non-virgin Green Belt land” or any other community benefits, which would have been expected to be part of a VSC argument.
The officer also criticises the application’s so-called “sequential test”:
In terms of the sequential test they mention the damaged nature of land as a criteria – this is not part of [Green Belt] purpose – it is not about quality of an area or piece of land. Virgin Green Belt sites are screened out because they would be similar to the application site, however, despite there having been some historic landfill on the site, I am not sure that this description applies to the application site aerial photography does not show it to look much different to neighbouring grassed fields. (…) On this basis [their] sifting would be different so you might want to ask them to redo the assessment ruling in all GB land and then availability etc..”
The application also misses some primary school maths: the documents state that they assessed 91 sites, but only 68 + 20 = 88 are listed in paragraph 5.24 of the Sequential Assessment Report.
Unsurprisingly, “the assessment table appears to lack detail in explaining why some sites [are] ruled out and is incorrect in many cases”.
The officer then lists several factual errors with land ruled out, which should actually have been considered. This includes several pieces of land claimed to be in the AONB but they are not (Wilton Park, Stoke Poges, West Taplow, Thorney Business Park). In some cases, these are actually close to a motorway, so arguably more accessible than Marlow’s Green Belt.
Needless to say, Guernsey-based Dido Property Limited are attempting to fudge the site selection process to end up with land that they own – not where a film studio project would be the most beneficial for the industry. Thankfully their mistakes and false assumptions make it so obvious to officers and every one of us.
The officer agrees with much of the detail and conclusions set out by the Chilterns Conservation Board in their objection. The location for the proposed film studio is right next to the Chilterns AONB and currently being assessed for inclusion into an expanded AONB. On the other side of the Thames, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Local Plan “seeks to conserve and enhance the special character and visual amenity of the River Thames” (policy QP4). In conclusion: “on account of the function, scale and character of the proposed development”* it will cause significant harm and does not satisfy local plan policies.
Aside from these policy incompatibilities, the officer also highlights that the planning application deliberately tries to obfuscate the impact on the landscape:
“Photomontage View 3 demonstrates the significant harm to views from the Chilterns AONB broadly north / northeast of the site. (…) Photomontage View 9 also demonstrates a major incursion of commercial development into an otherwise intact rural landscape as seen from the Chilterns AONB overlooking the Thames Valley.”
“Photomontage View 8 would help illustrate this but is unhelpfully presented as a very wide angle panorama, which reduces detail and the perception of scale; there is no reason why this could not have been presented in the same manner as others in the set, (…)”
And the obfuscation is highlighted further down in more explicit terms:
“There is a variable approach to the horizontal angle of view and framing of photomontages which confuse and distort the perception of scale and impact of the proposed development. (…) Accompanied by the relatively low resolution of the images in the submitted PDF files, these do not fairly represent the proposed development and how it would be seen in the field.”
Equally, the “improvements” to the footpath between the A404 and Little Marlow are questioned:
“[The planning documents] and supporting photomontages demonstrate a profound change to the environment of this footpath where it passes through the site. There will be a loss of openness and views from the footpath, with a change of character from open rural landscape to a much more enclosed urban landscape. ‘Improvements’ to this right of way include surfacing and lighting that are likely to improve accessibility but ultimately diminish any sense of its existing rural character. (…) Such change to the user’s experience of the existing landscape is considered a major harmful effect. **The applicant suggests this is part of a positive contribution to the RUR4 outdoor recreation objective of a Country Park, but is in fact the opposite. ** “
Turning to landscape design, whereby the planning application tries to “blend in”:
“The principle of screening with planting to supposedly reduce visual harm is a universal approach by almost all developers and is not unique to this development. It is also a frequently harmful approach, as it overlooks the important contribution made to visual amenity by the open undeveloped landscape and views to other features or locations. Creating ‘green walls’ around development, and ‘green tunnels’ on routes through development are both harmful to visual amenity where the existing landscape is open and attractive.”
Also, the “green walls” on the warehouses are considered inadequate:
“The applicant proposes green walls to some of the taller buildings. I am not satisfied with the approach proposed – wires and climbing plants are not sufficiently substantial and do not qualify as a ‘green wall’ in the conventional sense. Of the five climbing plants proposed, only one (deciduous) plant is likely to achieve over 12 metres of height, and none will have any immediate impact.“
What about the public space? Well, the officer is quite clear on that:
“The proposed ‘public art opportunity’ is intrusive and unwelcome. If nothing else, public art should be in a public or publically accessible space, which this is not. It appears to serve as no more than an advertisement/icon for the proposed development and serves no public interest.“
“(…) I do not agree with the design approach for the Hub building. The [document] describes this as a building that will ‘engage the public’, but the design language says otherwise. “
In summary: Dido Property Limited’s planning application for the film studio will be a terrible eyesore that destroys the rural character of the area, the views from all angles and they try to hide with “green walls” that won’t work and photomontages that deliberately change the perception.