The Film Council's development fund has announced slate development deals with six UK production companies, worth $1.767m (£1.262m) from its annual coffers of $7m (£5m).

Long term deals have been struck with Fragile Films, Archer Street Tiger Lily, Kuhn & Co, Autonomous, Dragon Pictures and The Jim Henson Company.

A separate slate deal worth $16,798 (£12,000) has also been struck with The National Film And Television School, to support students in acquiring and adapting properties for future industry development.

According to the Council's development fund head Jenny Borgars, the slate deals - the first in the fund's tenure - have been struck with producers with fast-growing businesses and a proven ability to traverse both creative and business elements of the industry in the UK, Europe and the US.

"They have high ambitions for developing their companies and projects, and well-considered business plans," explained Borgars.

Although funding is for an initial one-year period, the deals are expected to run for at least two to three years, and the development money can be used for creative development itself as well as for company overhead costs and towards the hiring of new development executives.

The development fund, which also works with producers on a project-by-project basis, will this year announce further slate deals with other companies.

The biggest surprise among the six benefactors was The Jim Henson Company, which does not have a high-profile feature producing presence in the UK and yet received $210,000 (£150,000). However, the company will create a new development post in London where it has an existing office, to focus on developing family and fantasy films.

Lisa Henson, president of the company currently owned by EM.TV, said: "Our company is committed to creating quality family and fantasy films. These are two genres that have been led by British writers for years. The development fund will allow us to more actively nurture new projects from the best creative talent in these genres."

New company Autonomous, which unites producers Cat Villiers and Chiara Menage, was awarded $196,000 (£140,000). The producers' credits include No Man's Land, Love Is The Devil and Saving Grace. Autonomous' Cat Villiers, co-producer of Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land, said: "Slate funding is key to the development of companies such as our own, enabling us to better develop a wide range of projects which will in turn allow us to leverage our position in the market and grow the company."

Archer Street, which consists of Hilary And Jackie team Andy Paterson, Anand Tucker and Frank Cottrell Boyce, is merging with Tiger Lily producers Natasha Dack and Nikki Parrott. The new outfit was awarded $224,000 (£160,000). Archer Street's Andy Paterson said: "Maintaining a constant flow of projects in development makes us much more interesting to international distributors. With a company like ours it also means that writer-director teams are directly connected to the market."

Dragon Pictures, currently in post-production with Thunderpants, was awarded $350,000 (£250,000), and will shortly announce new executives.

Fragile Films, headed up by producer Barnaby Thompson, was awarded $280,000 (£200,000). The company will this summer release UK comedies Lucky Break and High Heels And Low Lifes, and is currently in post production on The Importance Of Being Earnest.

Producer Michael Kuhn's Kuhn & Co received the largest award, with $490,000 (£350,000). Kuhn recently sealed a production and distribution deal with 20th Century Fox and is bringing in development executive Colleen Woodcock.

The formation of a cash-rich development fund was well-received in the UK, which has an oft-criticised dearth of development culture.

"The gap in the industry for providing development funding for bigger budget projects has been an historic problem in the UK," said Michael Kuhn, "and it is really important for companies with ambitions in this direction to get an eye in early on a project, to secure big cast names, etc. This type of funding aims to give companies that ability."