(Revised November 2021 )
In October 2016, proposals were announced to build new film studios on a nine-acre site in Dagenham. The Londoneast-uk Enterprise Partnership and Barking and Dagenham Council invested £80,000 to develop a business case for the development, with the support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The location was formerly the manufacturing plant of pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The remaining buildings have already been used for a number of TV dramas including Humans (C4), Code of a Killer (ITV), New Blood (BBC) and were also used for the Marvel blockbuster feature Avengers: Age of Ultron. These buildings are now a campus for Elutec Academy of Design and Engineering – with the film studios on the brownfield site alongside.
In December 2016 the site was purchased by the local council for a reported £12m. In October 2017 the studios moved a little closer when according to press reports, Barking and Dagenham Council ‘invited expressions of interest’ for the creation of the studios. This followed the publication of a report that predicted that the studios were viable and could create 780 jobs and £35m for the economy.
A formal tender process started early in 2018. In February 2018 The Guardian reported that Pinewood had shown an interest in building and running these studios. However, in March the unexpected winner was announced – it was American company Pacifica Ventures in partnership with Media Content Capital. You may recall that Pacifica was the company that expressed an interest in developing and expanding Elstree Studios back in 2007. Plans that unfortunately never happened.
The scheme announced by Pacifica was ambitious and very exciting. It included 12 sound stages, some TV studios, workshops, offices, post production and training facilities. Unfortunately, very little appeared to have been done on site by the summer of 2019. However, there was an announcement in September 2019 that a new 42,000 sq ft ‘warehouse’ was available for filming along with 3,500 sq ft of ancillary offices. This was not an actual sound stage but was being offered to production companies whilst the rest of the site was prepared and constructed.
Sadly, in October 2019 there was an announcement that Pacifica were withdrawing from the project. They blamed ‘uncertainties to do with Brexit.’ No construction of any stages had begun at that point. Ho hum.
To their credit, Barking and Dagenham Council immediately released £3.4m to ‘Be First’, the council’s development arm, to design and apply for planning permission for the first six stages along with workshops and offices. These would either be operated by a new management company or by the council themselves.
The planning application was submitted in March 2020, just before the Coronavirus stopped everything in its tracks. Approval was given in July 2020. The plans included 6 sound stages covering 140,000 sq ft, 85,200 sq ft of offices and 174,500 sq ft of workshop space. This was a somewhat less ambitious scheme than originally proposed. Building work was expected to start in 2021.
Pat Hayes, the director of Be First, stated that a decision on whether to appoint a management company or run the studios themselves would be taken early in 2020 after submitting planning permission for the revised scheme. In July 2020 it was reported that Be First was still in talks with potential joint venture partners.
In November there was at last an announcement that a new backer for the project had been found. This is Los Angeles real-estate firm Hackman Capital Partners, who also own Culver Studios and Television City Studios in California. HCP will be taking on a 250 year lease and intend to build 12 sound stages, offices and workshops with 3 acres of backlot. They are working in partnership with MBS – the California-based company that supplies lighting kit in the UK but is also involved in planning and running many film studios worldwide. MBS are also designing and running the new Apple film studios near Aylesbury and Wardpark Studios in Scotland.
Planning permission has already been granted. Interestingly, it appears that the new scheme includes the 6 planned stages but the two large workshops are being converted into 6 more stages. There are what appear to be a couple of workshops but these are much smaller than the original buildings.
HCP held consultations with the local community in the summer of 2021 as they wanted to change the design and use of some of the buildings. Construction began later in 2021 and the studios are likely to be ready in 2023.