A major new studio facility is set to be built in Australia - the fourth in the country.

Paul Hathaway, a business consultant and engineer, and his property developer brother Michael Hathway, are confident they will have all the necessary final approvals by the end of this year to construct Saltwater Studios. It is billed as Australia's biggest studio complex.

Saltwater Studios is to be built on 150 acres on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, at a cost of about US$59m (A$90m). About US$700,000 was raised by local business investors and Australian fund managers to cover the planning, but international players will be joining local investors for the construction phase.

Sharon Gerussi, who briefly headed up business development at BBC Films, has been recruited to work for the studio, and will oversee all aspects of the proposed facility's international business, including leasing and production finance services.

The first stage of the facility will include seven sound stages ranging from 1,800 to 3,500 square metres, production offices, workshops and wardrobe areas, and various commercial spaces for associated businesses, all built around a 13-acre lake.

Various existing institutions, including a university, have submitted proposals for comprehensive training facilities, which will be a unique aspect of the development. Paul Hathaway also says it will be the most technologically advanced in the Southern Hemisphere.

The EGO Group, the architects for Fox Studios Australia, was behind the studio's design.

Gerussi told ScreenDaily.com that while US offshore production will provide "bread and butter" earnings, she will be strongly marketing the co-production opportunities available in Australia and offering to help with the financing of such projects.

"I believe there is lots of scope in the marketplace for another studio and that we will not have any trouble filling the facility once it opens its doors in 2005," said the UK-born Gerussi. "Providing it is done right, and it will be, the people will come."

Australia already boasts two major studio facilities: Fox Studios Australia and Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios. A third studio, Central City Studios, is under construction in Melbourne.