It has taken seven years, a major rethink and several planning applications, all in the face of objections from local residents and South Bucks District Council (SBDC), but Pinewood studios has at last got permission to move on with its plans for a film production and postproduction centre "of the future".
The Pinewood Studios Development Framework (PSDF) was given the green light by the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles. The Pinewood group had appealed to his department against SBDC's decision to reject the application, which will effectively double its capacity over the next 15 years.
The idea of expanding the studio site was originally presented in 2007 as Project Pinewood. This proposed a campus of full-size exterior film sets, including a canal and a castle, and a residential development, as well as sound stages, postproduction facilities and supporting offices. This was strongly opposed by local residents, who argued that the development would reduce the amount of greenbelt land in the area and add to the urban sprawl from London.
SBDC rejected the proposal for Project Pinewood but the studio group reworked the application, removing the more ambitious elements and adding plans for affordable housing. This was also rejected, as was another submission made in February 2013 under the PSDF name. This proposal to add 100,000 square metres of new studios, stages, streetscapes, workshops and support premises to the existing Pinewood site was also rejected by SBDC, but Pinewood lodged an appeal with the government that has now proved successful.
Commenting on the decision, Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive of Pinewood Shepperton, said, "Our project builds on the success of the government's policy for the creative industries and addresses the shortage of stage space in the UK. As a result of [the] green light from the secretary of state, thousands of much needed new jobs will be created in this growing sector of the economy. We want to begin construction as soon as possible."
While Pinewood says the £200 million development will secure growth to deal with growing demand in film and TV production and provide local jobs, SBDC, which had called the plans "inappropriate", said it was "disappointed" by the decision. The website of the Stop Project Pinewood campaign relayed the news with "sadness and frustration", saying the only comfort was that, apparently, the decision had been "very close".
Pinewood has invested in its existing facilities recently, including the first Dolby Atmos theatre in the UK. A company spokeswoman said it was too early to discuss any plans for how the audio department might be further expanded as part of PSDF.