The Wokingham Paper

Hollywood: Plan to build UK's biggest film studios in Shinfield

The University of Reading hope to develop a film and creative hub in Shinfield. Picture: Jess Warren

An American film company has announced their plans to build the largest purpose-built film studio and digital creative hub complex in the UK.

Blackhall Studios hope to bring major Hollywood film productions to the UK and create up to 3,000 new jobs in Wokingham and Reading, including around 1,500 employed at the studio.

The site — owned by the University of Reading — would see the construction of a film studio complex and high-tech cinema. 

Built at the Thames Valley Science Park, Shinfield, the studios hope to generate a long-term partnership with the University of Reading.

Overlooking the fields where the new film studios may be built. Picture: Jess Warren

President of Blackhall UK, Nick Smith said: “Blackhall Studios currently operates from a 160 acre site in Atlanta, USA. But now they’re expanding internationally. 

“The UK is really the place to be if you want to make the top class, film and television content. 

“Everybody wants to come to the UK. The challenge that we have, or have had up until now in the UK, is that all the studios are full.”

Netflix, Universal and Amazon are all looking for space, “everybody wants to come into the UK”, he explained.

“The idea is that we create a Hollywood-type film studio, in the field next to us.

“We’re talking about constructing 500,000 square feet of stages. 

“And you need other buildings like offices and workshops — where you actually fabricate the film sets.

“We’re building something at a scale that you could — if somebody was so inclined — house the next James Bond film, but it could be anything; James Bond, Star Wars, Jumanji. 

“The point is producers wouldn’t walk in here and say our studios are too small.

“Realistically, four films could be shot here each year. 

“The high-budget films that we’re talking about take the best part of the year.

A computer generated image of what the future sight may look like. Picture: Blackhall Studios

“If you think about it, it probably takes you six to nine months to build your film set. And then you might shoot for three to four months.

And then it’s going to take you a couple of months to put it all down and pack it all the way.”

Mr Smith has been working in film and television for more than 30 years. 

He said: “I joined Pinewood in 2001 and built it from a single-site heritage business into a global brand.”

Mr Smith has now sold Pinewood Studios, and is hoping to build Blackhall Studios into his next international brand. 

Skills gap 

“There is a skills shortage in the film and television industry and the Government are acutely aware of this,” said Mr Smith. 

“The Government announced the sector deal about 12 months ago, where they are investing in training and education. 

The University of Reading hopes to develop Cine-Valley in Shinfield. Picture: Jess Warren

“Part of part of the problem though, we train a lot of people to come work in this industry. But when the studios are terribly full. When they’re qualified, they’re finding that the first jobs they get to work on are in Central and Eastern Europe or elsewhere in the world. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice to bring everybody back here to work.”

University of Reading student involvement 

Blackhall Studios are also discussing how they may benefit students at the University of Reading. 

Sam Foley, chief financial officer of the University of Reading, said: “We are delighted to be talking to Blackhall Studios, whose proposals would build a whole creative hub at Thames Valley Science Park.  

“These proposals will boost the creative and cultural economy of our region.

“We are still doing investigations around what our future arrangements might be,” said Ms Foley.

“It will take a while to get the studio’s up and running. 

“But certainly, as a future partner for us, we’re having some very encouraging conversations, because there is a mutual benefit for the students.

“But really, we want to start working with Blackhall as soon as possible.”

Nick Smith, president of Blackhall UK and Sam Foley, chief financial officer of the University of Reading. Picture: Jess Warren

Time frame

The proposal is still subject to planning approval by Wokingham Borough Council, although they hope to open in 2022.

 “We want to get our planning applications in by the end of summer,” added Mr Smith. “We’re hoping to get all the necessary approval and thumbs up by the end of this year, and we really want to start building early next year.

“We know what we’re doing, we’re building film stages. Personally, I’ve built quite a few around the world in my time.

“And we do think that we can be up and running within about 12 months from the start of construction.

“So the plan at the moment, it is ambitious, but we hope to be open for business at the very early part of 2022.”

Flood management

In recent weeks, flooding has been at the forefront of public discussion. 

Keen to address the issue, Mr Smith explained how they will work to find solutions.

“We have some very good contractors and engineers that we’re working with and they are acutely aware of the surface water issues and drainage. 

“And it’s going to be a significant engineering project.”

Mr Smith explained that they also hope to address other sustainability issues

The site will be planned with surface drainage and water runoff in mind. Picture: Jess Warren

“We have to think about travel and transport. How do people get to the site, how do we trade on site.” 

Ms Foley added: “The University works in one of the country’s leading partnerships for flood  defence. 

“The Loddon Valley Partnership is recognised across the UK as a leading flood-management project. So although we do have some flooding, it’s all where we expected the flooding to be. This whole site has been developed carefully so that we don’t damage any of that.”

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