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Pinewood Studios' $300m expansion plans rejected

Pinewood Studios’ plans for a $300m (£200m) expansion have been turned down after being labelled “inappropriate” by the local authority.

The plans would have seen studios, stages workshops, production offices and streetscapes for filming built across a 100,000 sq m area in a bid to deliver growth for the next 15-20 years, and a report to the council claimed the project would generate spending of around £400m a year for the UK economy.

But South Buckinghamshire District Council (SBDC) have turned down the plans and said it would be an “inappropriate” expansion into green belt land. The plan was defeated by six votes to four.

The Council described Pinewood’s proposal as “one of the most contentious and difficult” it had had to deal with and claimed the proposal would “have caused significant degradation to the local environment and quality of life of local residents”.

Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive of Pinewood Shepperton, said the decision was “disappointing” but that it planned to appeal.

“It is hard to believe, given the country’s economic difficulties that SBDC would turn down a £200m project creating 3,100 jobs in the vibrant and growing film and television sectors,” said Dunleavy in a statement.

“The company remains committed to the Pinewood Studios Development Framework and we will be studying the decision with our legal and planning team and expect to appeal the decision to the Secretary of State.” 

There had been 254 letters of support for the plan in a report to the council, but parish councils objected to the plans with claims of a “harmful inpact on the character of the area”.

The studios have seen more than 1,500 films made over the past 76 years and were used to film Oscar-nominated Les Miserables and James Bond hit Skyfall. Pinewood earns more than 70% of its income from films, compared with 56% in 2007.

Expansion plans were first dealt a blow in 2009 when the local council rejected a proposal to include more than 1,000 new homes as part of film sets on the 100-acre site next to the existing studios. A government inquiry backed that decision last year.

The housing element was removed when the plans were resubmitted. But SBDC voted on Wednesday [May 15] to block the scheme by six votes to four.

The British Film Commission later released a statement. Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the BFC and Film London, said: “This is obviously disappointing news for Pinewood and we hope they can work to satisfy the objections of the planning committee.

“We believe an expansion of one of the country’s finest studio facilities would provide real benefit by capitalising on the success of the UK as a destination for major film and television production, a sector which has delivered billions of pounds worth of investment for the UK economy, and created thousands of jobs.”

Full statement from South Bucks District Council:

The Pinewood proposal is one of the most contentious and difficult planning applications that the Council has had to deal with, probably since the decision to refuse permission in 2009 for the ‘Project Pinewood’ proposal, a decision which was later upheld on appeal.

Pinewood acknowledge that their proposals are contrary to Green Belt policy, but have argued very strongly that there were exceptional reasons for allowing their proposals.

All parties including objectors and supporters, Pinewood themselves and councillors were able to put their points forward for consideration by the Committee. The Committee had a full discussion of the issues before coming to a decision that it would refuse to give permission for the proposed development.

Having carefully considered all the arguments for and against the proposals the Committee was on balance of the view that to have allowed this development of over 110 acres in the Green Belt and Colne Valley Park, would not only but also have caused significant degradation to the local environment and quality of life of local residents.

The Council has a strong track record of defending the Green Belt against inappropriate development for the wider benefit of all those who live and work in the District. The very fact South Bucks remains such a desirable place to reside in is due in no small part to the protection afforded by our Green Belt policies.

However it is also important to stress that this decision should not be seen as anti-Pinewood. The Council fully recognises the importance of Pinewood to the local and wider economy and has been very supportive of the company over many years. We will continue in that support of Pinewood’s existing thriving site.

It is of course open to Pinewood to appeal the Council’s refusal decision and if they do so then a Government Inspector will hold an Inquiry and decide whether to support the Council’s refusal or to grant permission against the local decision. The Council will continue to defend its Green Belt policies robustly and actively in the event of an appeal.

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