Plans to build a world-class film and television studios at Shinfield are another step closer to rolling into action.
Wokingham Borough Council's planning committee has resolved to approve an application by Shinfield Studios, which is working in partnership with the University of Reading, for its Creative Media Hub.
The 85,000 sq m complex would be built on part of the Thames Valley Science Park to the south of the M4, which is earmarked for employment use in the council's local plan, plus additional land to the north and south of Cutbush Lane.
It would be used to produce major international films and television programmes and would have 18 film stages and eight workshops to support set production plus office facilities and other supporting infrastructure.
Councillors unanimously agreed the proposed use wouldn't significantly affect neighbours as filming activities would take place in the studio buildings, which must be soundproofed, while the developer would be required to improve surrounding infrastructure for the benefit of the wider community.
The project would deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits as it is expected to create 1,500 new jobs with a similar figure arising from indirect employment generated by its use. Construction would generate a further 1,400 jobs and a similar number indirectly.
This is a major inward investment to Wokingham borough’s economy and Shinfield Studios has committed to providing training and apprenticeships as well as securing local jobs by drawing up a bespoke Employment Skills Plan for the site.
The site lies in the council's major new development at Shinfield, where there is good existing infrastructure delivered as part of housing and employment growth. This includes the Eastern Relief Road, which will limit the impacts associated with construction on the wider transport network.
The application commits to delivering new wildlife habitats on land in the Loddon Valley, which will conserve and enhance biodiversity in the long term.
The developer would have to improve footpaths to the east of Shinfield which link to the wider network. New street lighting will also be secured between a section of Cutbush Lane East, where the British Museum is to open a new archive facility, and Lower Earley Way.
Sustainability to the fore
The studios are designed with sustainability in mind and will be built to a high industry standard in terms of reducing energy use.
They will use modular construction to reduce building waste and construction traffic and will have good insulation, solar roof panels generating 20 per cent of the site’s energy needs, air source heat pumps, cycle storage and electric vehicle charging points. The building is also designed not to rely on natural gas for heating.
This will contribute towards the council’s aspiration for the borough to reduce its net carbon footprint to zero by 2030.
Because of the scale of the development, the application has been referred to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to seek endorsement of the council’s resolution to approve the scheme. A decision is expected within the next month.
Once this is resolved, preliminary building work could start early next year and the project could be finished by 2024.
This month's decision follows the unanimous approval in March of plans for a temporary film studio in Shinfield, which is largely finished and partly occupied.
A centre for excellence
The University of Reading, which owns the science park, revealed the plans in December 2020 after announcing a deal with an American film industry investor.
Shinfield Studios would serve as the “anchor” tenant for the university's Cine Valley initiative, a TV and film production hub which launched on the site last month. Plans for a live television studio with seating for audiences, which the university promoted, were granted planning permission in July.
Cllr Stuart Munro, executive member for business and economic development, said: “We're absolutely thrilled that the prospect of major international blockbusters being filmed in Wokingham borough is now almost a reality.
“It will consolidate our existing links with the film industry, as well as our reputation as a centre for excellence in technology and innovation, while increasing our presence on the global stage.
“The new jobs and investment opportunities offered by this project will also play a key role in our recovery from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, added: “Studios are an unexpected departure from our initial vision for the Thames Valley Science Park but they share the same innovative, pioneering spirit.
“We're thankful that residents and the parish council share our enthusiasm for this proposal and welcome the prospects it presents, as it has been crucial in getting this far.”
'Significant step' for arts
Nick Smith, joint managing director of Shinfield Studios, said: “We are thrilled to have progressed to the next stage of the planning process for Shinfield Studios and thank Wokingham Borough Council, University of Reading and the local community for their support.
“The final step is to receive approval from the Secretary of State. Once complete we’re looking forward to sharing more details about our plans for a permanent, world-leading production hub in the heart of Wokingham, providing 18 state-of-the-art sound stages for high-end film and television productions.”
Professor John Gibbs, professor of film and research dean for heritage and creativity at the University of Reading, said: “We are delighted that these new studios have been approved, and it will be great to see films and TV shows emerging right on our doorstep in a significant step for the creative arts in Berkshire.
“Cine Valley is creating exciting opportunities for students and local businesses, built on a foundation of sharing skills and expertise with the University of Reading. It’s a theme we hope to continue to foster and develop over the coming years.”
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