Wycombe Film Studios (Wycombe Air Park)

Temporary stages from 2022 – 2027?  Permanent studios from 2023?

The approximate area of the temporary filming location and proposed permanent film studios.  I am informed by one of the members of Booker Gliding Club that before the filming work began they used the large area inside the red triangle west of the runway for take off and landings, and the area east of it for trailer parking and to rig and derig gliders.  Another pilot has told me that the area inside the red triangle was often used as a convenient landing area as well as a location to rig and derig gliders before and after a day’s flying.  The main runway 06/24 is not used by gliders.  I have read that the north-south grass runway 35 is no longer is use, but cannot confirm this.
Some of the glider trailers parked in the area now occupied by a temporary stage seen on this Googlemaps image.

 

On 23rd September 2021 a planning application was made to use the southern corner of Wycombe Air Park (otherwise known as Booker Airfield) as a filming location.  Three exterior sets were due to be constructed, with filming beginning in April 2022.  A separate application proposed a temporary sound stage and two workshop buildings.  It would appear that permission was granted on 18th November for both applications, allowing the land to be used for filming until August 2022.

Interestingly, yet another application was lodged on 28th September relating to the same triangle of land.  This too was made by Stage 50, the company that specialises in rapid-build sound stages.  They already have 2 stages at Farnborough and are also building 6 at Winnersh Triangle.  Their application here was for an additional stage at 32,000 sq ft plus the other previously mentioned one at 21,000 sq ft.  They also proposed to build a total of 6 temporary workshops.  As you can see, this is all terribly confusing, with 3 separate planning applications relating to the same triangle of land.

The third application stated that the temporary erection of the units was required to accommodate the specific needs of an international production company who require the use of these facilities to support filming associated with a global film franchise.  They also stated that a range of other TV or film productions may also use the space over the period of 2 years.

 

As I say, this third application was for 2 years, which could of course in theory be extended upon another application, as happened at Bray.  In fact, on 29th March 2022, an amended application was submitted, which requested permission for 5 years.  At this point in time, permission for the second stage had not, it seems, been passed.  According to the council’s website at the beginning of April, the status was ‘awaiting decision.’  However, it appears that some construction work had at this point commenced – one assumes relating to Stage 1 and to keep up with the proposed filming schedule.  In fact, a drawing submitted by Stage 50 showing the changes to the proposals indicates that Stage 1 had already been granted planning permission ‘under ref: 21/07862/PNP4E.

To further add to the confusion, on 1st April 2022 yet another application was made, modifying the one made shortly before.  This added another two temporary stages at the western end of the site.  These are each 26,000 sq ft and joined together in a single building.  The ridge height will be 19.5 m.  So as well as stage 1 which has already received planning permission, there would now also be stages 2, 3 and 4.  Two more workshops are also proposed, making 8 in total.

 

According to local reports, following the commencement of construction, the airfield manager suspended gliding activities at the airfield as he considered it to be unsafe.  Many people have objected to the planning application on the grounds that some long-term proposed changes to gliding activity, moving it to the north of the main runway, had not yet happened.  They mention that the Wycombe District Local Plan states that any proposed developments in the southern corner of the airfield should ‘Demonstrate that they do not compromise or limit the operation of the aviation uses, including gliding, at the Air Park’.

I am not in a position to comment on all this, as I don’t know enough of the details but it would certainly appear that there is a serious problem if the erection of the first stage has prevented gliding from taking place.  The airfield is a popular centre for this activity and has been for 70 years.  In these circumstances, and with many people objecting to the proposals, planning permission for the additional three stages may be far from certain.  If refused, then it would seem that the production scheduled to film on these stages during 2022 might have a problem.

It is also worth noting that from reading the letters on the planning website, some people seem to be unaware that permission was granted for the first stage.  The council’s website is not at all clear with both of the original applications having the same title – ‘…construction of stage set, associated parking and filming’ even though one relates to exterior ‘back lot’ filming and the other to the erection of buildings.  There is one digit different in the reference number between the two applications – hence I suspect the confusion.  It is also perhaps worth mentioning that the council’s website states that the land involved is on the north of the airfield when in fact it is on the south.  Hmm.

 

The rather confusingly worded form on the council’s website.  North or South?  And what exactly is a ‘stage set?’  That’s something I would expect to find in a theatre.

 

I have been contacted by people from Booker Gliding Club, who are understandably very angry that this temporary development has gone ahead, thus preventing all flying by gliders.  They have informed me that:

‘The 23 September applications were submitted as prior notification under Part 5 Class E ‘permitted development’.  These were immediately (incorrectly) approved by the council when they should have been rejected because:
 
1. Permitted development is not allowed in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding National Beauty.
2. The applications impact (prevent) gliding, in direct conflict with the council’s own local plan.
3. The sound stages are too close to the boundary for permitted development.
 
Construction to date also conflicts with the permitted development requirements because the sound stages are over 18m tall (limit for permitted development is 15m as stated in the applications).’

 

NB – according to the plans on the council’s website the ridge height of stage 1 is 18.2m.

 

At the beginning of May 2022 Stage 50 issued a press release that the members of the gliding club must have greeted with dismay.  They are now proposing a permanent film studio on the site, with 8 sound stages and associated production offices and workshops.  Although still utilising the modular aluminium and steel structure of the rapid build stages they have developed, these buildings will appear rather more permanent – with solar panels on the roofs and ‘green’ walls.  Stage 50 are emphasising the sustainable credentials of their proposals here at Wycombe.

 

The proposed permanent new Wycombe Film Studios.

Stage 50 point out that in 2019 the proposed site for Wycombe Film Studios was allocated as a strategic employment area in the Local Plan for Wycombe District, with the adjacent Air Park remaining in situ.  So the issue with the gliding club appears to be a problem between them and Buckinghamshire Council rather than with Stage 50 themselves.  The company is simply taking the opportunity of utilising this land that has been made available by the council.

The company is also emphasising the local employment opportunities that the studios will provide.  They say that once the studio is operational it will create 750 full time jobs and support 450 indirect jobs in the supply chain.  They will also be offering 25 apprenticeships annually.  Stage 50 estimate that the studios will generate £305m economic output (GVA).  Certainly, the location of these studios is very good, with excellent communications via the M40 and sitting nicely within the cluster of major studios west of London.  The proposed Marlow Studios are a short distance away.  Pinewood, Leavesden, Bray and Shinfield are only a half hour drive and Shepperton, Elstree, Longcross and Winnersh about 40-45 minutes.

The company says that planning permission for the permanent studio will be submitted later in 2022 and construction will follow in phases over 18 months.

 

This proposal appears to be well planned and in an excellent location – unless you are a glider pilot.  It seems to me that if planning permission is granted then the local council should work with the gliding club and management of the airfield to establish a safe way that gliding can resume on the airfield as soon as possible.

 

Do contact me if you believe that the above account is incorrect or needs clarification, particularly if you are directly involved.