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Monday, April 22, 2024

Sunderland set to become UK’s film and TV hub with £450M Studio Plan

Major plans for film and TV studios along Sunderland’s riverside are due to go before councillors for decision next week.

Sunderland City Council’s Planning and Highways Committee will discuss a high-profile plan to transform the former Crown Works site in Pallion.

CGI Image View from Northern Spire bridge. Image: Crown Works Studio

The site, which sits in the shadow of the Northern Spire bridge, was once the home of Egis shipyard and then Coles Cranes, with a plaque recently installed at the site recognising the city’s crane-making heritage.

FulwellCain, a joint venture between global entertainment company Fulwell 73 and Cain International, and Sunderland City Council have been spearheading a bid to pave the way for a £450 million film and TV studios development.

Those behind the plan said it could generate millions of pounds for the local economy every year, along with jobs and contract opportunities spanning a vast range of disciplines, including trades and manual skills.

The studios took a step closer to becoming a reality in recent weeks, after a ‘trailblazer’ deal for the North East in the Government’s Budget paved the way for regional leaders to provide funding needed to make the project happen.

At a meeting today, Sunderland councillors will consider a ‘hybrid’ planning application which details specific plans for phase one of the studios development, and outline plans for future phases.

Applicants are initially looking for full planning permission for four sound stages, with a production office attached to each, six production support workshop buildings, a gateway building, a multi-storey car park, a substation and waste centre and ancillary infrastructure.

Crown Studios CGI. Image: Crown Studios

The building referred to as the ‘gatehouse’ would be around five storeys high, functioning as a security checkpoint, deliveries office and focal point to help the development stand out at its riverside location.

Outline planning approval, covering future phases of the film studios, would establish the principle of buildings and uses on site with final details being subject to further ‘reserved matters’ applications in future.

Applicants are hoping to secure outline approval for “film and TV studio uses including sound stages, production offices and production workshops”, as well as a “vendors village” for specialist businesses supporting productions, a multi-storey car park and the demolition of some buildings on site.

A key part of the development includes plans to convert the red brick printworks building, which sits adjacent to the phase one site, into a “technical education academy” and to demolish its industrial extension which is currently occupied by Sunderland’s climbing wall.

Supporting documents from developers noted the climbing wall site would “eventually be replaced by a new studio building”, with the printworks and climbing wall buildings being looked at in ‘phase two’ of the development.

Temporary planning approval is also being requested for temporary structures and infrastructure to allow filming on ‘backlots’ before later phases of the scheme come forward, which can include “mobile cranes, booms, water bowsers and flying or stunt rigs”.

Sunderland City Council planning officers, in a report prepared ahead of the Planning and Highways Committee next week, have recommended the studios scheme for approval.

The development has been deemed acceptable in key areas including design, noise and ecology, subject to planning conditions.

Crown Studios CGI. Image: Crown Studios

A report prepared for councillors notes a ‘transport advisory board’ would be created to look at the funding and delivery of public transport improvements, with Metro operator Nexus also raising proposals for “accessibility improvements” at the Pallion Metro station.

A council committee report states that “significant positive weight must be given to the development’s anticipated positive impact on the city’s economy and the opportunities it will bring in terms of employment and skills”, as well as the “wider positive health and wellbeing impacts on the population”.

The council committee report adds: “More broadly, it must be recognised that the proposed development is of such a scale and standing that it will benefit the profile of the city and wider region.

“The UK film and TV sector is a growth industry, and the proposed development would be a flagship facility of major standing with the ability to provide infrastructure to deliver additional filming capacity and support the continued growth of the industry in the North East and the wider nation.

“In addition to the clear and significant economic and employment benefits of the development, significant positive weight should be given to the scheme’s re-use of a long-time vacant brownfield site within the existing urban area, which is well-connected in terms of road infrastructure and active travel opportunities, with the site easily accessible on foot and by cycle.

“The development will also enable the remediation of this former industrial site”.

Subject to planning approval, applicants hope to start work on the Crown Works Studios development this year and to complete the final phase of the studios by 2027.

Once the development is fully built out, applicants say that multiple blockbuster movies could be made on the site at the same time.

Those behind the studios say the development would boost employment prospects and opportunities for Sunderland residents, including training and work experience, while creating an “uplift in higher skilled jobs in the local area”.

In addition, “enhanced” public transport is planned, along with new and enhanced footways and cycleways in the area, with an aim of “incentivising active travel and reducing private car use.

A final recommendation from National Highways around traffic data and impacts will be presented to councillors at next week’s planning meeting.

The council committee report also notes that the ‘Pallion Engineering’ buildings near phase one of the scheme, which include former shipyard buildings and dry docks, are not included in the Crown Works Studios planning application.

The final decision on the studios development rests with councillors on the Planning and Highways Committee, who will meet today 25 March 2024.

The meeting is scheduled to take place from 4.30pm at City Hall and will be open to the public.

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