UK film industry freelancers seeking other work

After our report a few months ago about the impact of actor strikes in the US, a new article in The Guardian features interviews with former UK film industry workers, who are needing to find jobs elsewhere.

Freelancers, the majority of people working in the industry, are hard hit through a combination of Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikers, drops in ad spending and a fall in commissions from domestic broadcasters and international streamers.

The Bectu union, which surveyed almost 4,000 UK TV & film freelancers, recently found three-quarters are out of work, 35% are struggling to pay household bills.

That’s hardly a sound economic case to invest in an oversized studio on Greenbelt land, is it? It ties in with the Knight Frank report. Buckinghamshire Council’s Strategic Sites Committee should do the right thing and follow its Planning Officers recommendation: refuse the film studio application.

Living next to a war zone

We wrote about the trials and tribulations of residents near the Leavesden film studio in the past, but they recently made the news again. Locals living by the film studio where Harry Potter and Barbie were filmed say it’s like being in the middle of a “war zone”.

“When they’re filming war movies we get the rat-a-tat-tat crack of machine gun fire in the middle of the night. Then one night there was a huge bang and my TV aerial fell off as cracks appeared in the ceiling. It’s ludicrous. They have absolutely no regard for their neighbours. We get guns firing and huge explosions at all times of the day and night.”

Do you want to be in this situation? You can continue to object to the Marlow film studio application.

Cllr Kershaw’s objection statement in full

Below is the objection statement given by Cllr Sam Kershaw from Little Marlow Parish Council at the Bucks Strategic Sites Committee on 23rd October.

The studio bubble has peaked.
This development isn’t needed.
And its local and national economic benefits are negligible.

Over the last ten years, companies like Netflix and Amazon grew the streaming market by spending billions producing original TV content.
Britain’s film industry benefited hugely.
The spending on UK content doubled between 2016 and 2022. 70% of this spend came from streaming companies.

This created a huge demand for studio space.
Industry insiders anticipated the demand.
They expanded existing studios such as Pinewood, Shepperton and Leavesden. And built new ones such as Wycombe Film Studios.

Then property developers got in on the action.
So much so that planning consents for film studios increased by 45% in the last five years
It became a gold rush.

In the background, the streaming market continued its rapid growth.
Many new services were launched.
And content budgets increased by over 25% per year. All funded by cheap money.
Everyone was wildly optimistic even though they were making huge losses.
A classic tech bubble.

This year, it began to burst.
The market is now reaching saturation, revenue growth is stalling and the cost of debt has rocketed.
After all, there is only so much money that people will spend on TV and film.

Streaming companies are now prioritising profitability over growth.
So their production budgets are being slashed.
Disney recently reduced its by 5.5 billion
This isn’t a blip caused by Hollywood strikes – this is the industry maturing and adapting.

Consequently, the demand for UK studio space has been significantly impacted.
Knight-Frank recently reported there is now enough to meet foreseeable demand.
Expansions of established studios such as Sunset in Hertfordshire are already being scaled back or cancelled.
And the outlook for new studios is looking very bleak.
Particularly those that don’t yet exist
Especially the large ones
The days of “build it and they will come” are over.

Marlow Film Studio is late to the party. The champagne has gone flat and the dancing partners have all been taken.
Bucks’ economic consultants, LSH, have already cast doubt on their forecasts for studio demand.
Now, they are so out of date they are clearly implausible.

The applicant’s economic case for the studio’s benefits depends on these forecasts.
Estimates for Employment, GVA and Tax Contributions are all based on occupancy rates.
The justification for these estimates was already weak and lacked any consideration of risks or dependencies.
Recent developments have made them even more open to doubt.

Would you invest your own money in this development?
I wouldn’t.
And Buckinghamshire shouldn’t allow its valuable greenbelt to be invested either.
The benefits are doubtful and the harm is certain.
Therefore, I strongly recommend refusal.

Bucks Strategic Sites Committee decides to defer their decision

The Strategic Sites Committee meeting on Monday 23rd October considered the film studio planning application, which its officers recommended for refusal. You can watch the recording online.

The planning officer started with a summary presentation of the development, adding that irrespective of new additions to the traffic proposals, the harm to the Greenbelt and local area would be unjustified.

Objections to the development were presented by Cllr Johncock, Cllr Watson, Cllr Wilson (Bourne End), Cllr Kershaw (Little Marlow), Cllr Pleming (Cookham) and SMG’s Richard Sherwin.

This was followed by odd and contradictory statements to the application from Robert Laycock and public supporters, which the chair allowed far more time than objectors.

In the end, several councillors, including Marlow’s Neil Marshall, voted to defer the decision to obtain more information on traffic and SAC, despite this being immaterial to the planning officers recommendation. This clearly panders to Dido Property Limited, wasting more officers time on tax payer money, while leaving local residents in limbo about their future. A very irresponsible decision.

Our fight against this development continues: there is no economic argument to build such a large film studio on Marlow’s Greenbelt. This is the only argument that matters. We will publish the speeches of the opposition over the next few days.

Bucks Strategic Sites Committee Decision Date set: 23rd October

The film studio planning application will be considered by Buckinghamshire Council’s Strategic Sites Planning Committee at its meeting, starting at 1:00pm on 23 October 2023. The Committee will be held in The Oculus at The Gateway, Gatehouse Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP19 8FF.

Members of the public are welcome to observe the meeting but the seating is limited. However, the meeting will be available to watch via a livestream broadcast on the Buckinghamshire Council website.

You can see the agenda and documents online here. The officer’s report is the first document on the list. While still accepting some of Dido Property Limited’s wishful thinking at face value, the officer’s recommendation to the committee is to refuse the application.

The proposal will lead to very substantial harm to the Green Belt adversely affect the setting of the Chilterns AONB and landscape character of the area. The impact on the highway network and the environment is substantially negative. Overall, notwithstanding the benefits of the scheme taken together, it is considered that the
benefits do not “clearly outweigh” the Green Belt and other harm. The applicant has not demonstrated ’very special circumstances’ to justify inappropriate development in the Green Belt for the purposes of paragraph 148 of the NPPF.

We can only hope that the councillors (including Marlow’s Neil Marshall) on the committee follow the advice of the officer.

Report on the Marlow Town Council Parish Meeting 17th October

There was an amazing turn-out at the Parish Meeting on 17th October, called by Marlow residents who disagreed with Marlow Town Council’s handling of the film studio planning application.

In the absence of the mayor and deputy mayor, Cllr Scott chaired the meeting, with Cllr Funnell remaining silent by his side for the entire duration. Cllr Scott flat out refused to explain any action by the council or councillors on multiple occasions, even when called on as a resident rather than a councillor. Even so, Cllr Scott was keen to stress several times that the support letter he published was the opinion of individual councillors.

However, the statements from the public were illuminating:

  • Marlow Town Councillors regularly have private meetings where policy decisions are made;
  • a resident who was told by Cllr Scott previously that a public meeting on the subject was not necessary because “the only people that would turn up would object to it”;
  • a Marlovian active in the film industry who has worked in several film studios for many years, but never with “a local”. He only gets nasty looks from them when parking the car in residential areas;
  • several residents who fear for the impact of the traffic on their daily lives
  • residents for whom the Greenbelt area is a mental health refuge;

Two votes were called at the meeting. The first vote was that the residents censure Marlow Town Council for its behaviour. The second vote was to call upon Marlow Town Council to formally object to the film studio planning application (even if individually councillors may support it) ahead of the Strategic Sites Committee meeting on Monday.

Both were carried with an overwhelming majority. The question is: will Marlow Town Council listen to its residents?

Marlow Town Council Parish Meeting 17th October – all registered voters welcome

Marlow Town Council will hold an extraordinary Parish Meeting to discuss the impact that the film studio could have on the town.

The meeting was called for by several Marlow residents under the provisions of the 1972 Local Government Act. SMG understands that the action was prompted by a letter in support of the studio that was sent to Bucks Planning Authority by the majority of Marlow Town Councillors following a decision they made at a private and unofficial meeting.

“The Film Studio is a huge local issue and the council’s handling of it has been shameful” stated Andrew Rackstraw, a Marlow resident and business owner. “If they felt it was important enough to justify sending a letter, then why didn’t they discuss it democratically in a public council meeting where they could hear the views of the people they are supposed to represent – what were they trying to hide at their secret meeting?”

An SMG spokesperson said, “SMG applauds this grassroots initiative by Marlow residents. We hope that lots of people go along to voice their opinions so that Marlow Town Council can then submit an official letter that truly represents the views of local people”.

The meeting will be held at 6pm on October 17th in the Higginson Room, Court Garden House, Marlow. Use the button below to add it to your calendar.

Bucks Highways says NO to Marlow Film Studio

Bucks Highways Authority has published a report that concludes that the Film Studio traffic “would adversely affect the safety and flow of users of the existing distributor road network, and lead to additional on-street parking”.

In plain English – Marlow Film studios would cause massive local congestion that would endanger people’s safety and disrupt their lives.

The report shows that jams would extend over a huge area – from Marlow to Wycombe to Bourne End to Maidenhead.

Daily commutes, school runs and emergency service response times would all become intolerable. In short, it would be a nightmare for all of us and it will also hurt local businesses.

Buckinghamshire Council cannot reasonably approve the development now that their own experts have shown how catastrophic its impact on traffic will be. And the fact that Marlow Town Council secretly voted to support the Film Studio before this analysis had been completed makes you wonder if they are really fit for purpose?

We know that Marlow Film Studios will damage the environment, destroy the greenbelt and disfigure the landscape. Now it’s clear that it will also massively disrupt our everyday lives. And for what – a handful of local jobs?

If you don’t want to spend your life sitting in traffic jams then please object.

Joy Morrissey MP visits Marlow’s Greenbelt

Last week, Save Marlow’s Greenbelt invited Joy Morrissey MP to tour the area under threat from the proposed film studio. After viewing the vast site from the Volvo bridge and admiring the natural beauty of the area she listened to the concerns of the local residents who will be most affected by the development.

“Marlow’s Greenbelt is an area we all love and it must be protected. I will do all that I can to fight for this. Together, we’ll ensure a greener and brighter future for our community.” said Joy.

You can read her objection to the film studio application.

Please continue to object.

Is Marlow Film Studio Actually Needed?

The landscape for the UK Film and High End TV production business is shifting and the demand for studio space is weakening. It seems that Marlow Film Studio isn’t actually needed.

You’ve probably noticed how there are fewer new series available on the streaming platforms these days and that episodes are being eked out over weeks rather than being dropped all at once. What’s more, Netflix has stamped down on password sharing is planning to run adverts.

All this is a sign that the streaming media giants have turned their focus to profitability and that the decade-long growth in spending on High End TV content is coming to an end. This growth accounted for the rapid expansion of the UK production industry so these changes will have a major impact on studio owners whose facilities are used for both feature films and HETV. Particularly as HETV contributed nearly 70% of production spend in 2022.

Consequently, some studios are putting their plans for expansion on ice. The big ones like Pinewood, are so well established that they will survive the downturn. But the prospects for new ones with no client contracts, like Marlow Film Studio, are looking extremely dicey.

A highly critical report commissioned by Bucks Council has already raised serious doubts over the need to build a film studio of this size in Marlow. A recent report by estate agents Knight Frank confirms that there is now enough studio space and no new builds are needed.

This is made clear in the forward to the report by analyst Freddie Owen

The demand profile in the industry is shifting, however. The major streaming platforms have, for the most part and time being at least, satisfied their requirements in terms of studio space.

There aren’t any other platforms that require large scale (500,000+ sq ft) dedicated facilities.

UK Film and Television Studios Market – 2023

This isn’t a temporary issue caused by the strikes in Hollywood – this is a major change in the HETV business model and reinforces our belief that there is simply no economic justification for Marlow Film Studio.

So, why do they want to go ahead if they are so late to the party? Well, they’re property developers, not studios bosses, so maybe they don’t understand how the business is changing.

But if they get planning permission there will be “change of use” on the land which will significantly increase its value by making it easier to obtain approval for alternative developments.

So maybe that’s what they’re up to – cook up a plan for a film studio, get planning permission and then sell on the land for a tidy profit, so it can be used for something else. Who knows what that could be. It certainly won’t be affordable housing because the land isn’t suitable and there is already plenty of empty office space in Globe Park – maybe it will become an Amazon warehouse or a breaker yard …

We want the land to be developed into a Country Park to protect nature and become a place where people can enjoy the countryside – it’s in the greenbelt after all. This was the plan put forward by Wycombe District Council but, after they were integrated into Buckinghamshire Unitary Council, it was cancelled and the land was conveniently removed from the Country Park.

If you don’t think the studio should be built then please click to object.