A film production complex on the former Manston Airport site?
Lights, cameras, action please!
A deafening silence from local politicians greeted the news of this proposal.
A two-page leaflet detailing the plans has been handed to all Thanet’s councillors, yet not a single one has stood up and said: “Great idea: let’s help make this happen!”
Some clunky promotional material and subsequent furore over a plagiarized Pinewood sign did not help. (I hope heads rolled).
But the lack of courage from our elected representatives – fearful of being pilloried by a vociferous and sometimes vicious Save Manston Airport lobby – is embarrassing.
They’re chained to the bandwagon they rolled into office on, stuck with a poisoned chalice they swore they would drink from (too many metaphors?)
At close quarters its stench is apparently appalling, even with an American real estate fund specialising in “distressed assets” and its local Tory MP cheerleader pinching their noses and shrieking “swallow!” If this were a film, it would be a black farce.
It’s a great shame. There are other options.
A copy of the alternative plans, seen by yours truly, details a vision of film and TV studios with sound stages ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 sq. ft each; 200 film/TV production offices with post-production, audio and editing suites and more.
Some is realistic, some faintly hubristic, but the vision has great potential.
Its proposers (not the new owners of the failed airport) have an option for 180 acres of the site and support from experienced actors in the sector. They anticipate the development – estimated to cost in the region of £125 million – to create 2,000 jobs.
This is not an opportunity that can last forever.
Other areas of the country are gunning for the same business coin.
There is a growing demand for film studio space in the UK. A report commissioned by the Scottish Government from consultants EKOS last year noted:
The extension by the UK Government of tax incentives for mobile production from film into TV and video games has created a surge of interest from international (mainly US) TV productions. With ongoing growth in demand for filmed content generally, [this] is driving demand for studio space, currently scarce within the UK and many parts of Europe.
And there is support out there to bolster a proposal like this.
The British Film Industry (BFI) alone ploughs over £26 million of Lottery funds annually into supporting film development, production and distribution activity in the UK – with the budget set to rise to £30m by 2017.
A positive and supportive local council backing any such proposal can make a world of difference to attracting investment. (It’s not hard to imagine Kent County Council offering strong support either…)
There’s already a lot of filming going on in Kent. From local TV like Eastenders to global blockbusters like World War Z or just music videos, the county’s wealth and diversity of stunning locations make it a great place to point a camera at.
Studio business for TV is more competitive than ever with the loss of space at Wimbledon, Teddington and (temporarily) at Riverside and TVC and as the general manager of West London Film Studios (WLFS) put it this year: “There is a lack of ‘big’ space – 10,000 sq ft plus with 35ft height.”
Indeed, with the BBC facing huge funding cuts and many staff reluctant to move to Salford and Birmingham, it’s not hard to imagine that were the facilities in place, certain BBC productions or studios could be persuaded down to Thanet.
(Why not? Margate’s one of the sexiest places in the country right now, featured in the New York Times, LA Times, GQ, Buzzfeed and every paper under the sun. Even if you don’t agree with the hype, you’ll agree that we’ve got more going for us than Salford!)
That would be a massive coup. And the knock-on impact in terms of set building and other jobs created would be massive in an area desperately in need of direct investment and employment opportunities.
With demand strong and just weeks ago the European Commission having approved the government’s 25% tax breaks to the sector, it’s the perfect time to strike. (The approval – needed under EU state-aid rules – means a stable regulatory environment likely to attract even more foreign production to the UK’s shores).
A report early this year commissioned by the British Film Institute, the British Film Commission, the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, and others found that the total economic contribution for the core UK film sector amounted to £3.7 billion, supported 97,300 jobs and contributed £1.1 billion in tax revenues to the Exchequer.
It’s a strong and growing sector. So let’s just scrap the endless retakes of the scene in which dithering councillors ramble on about a compulsory purchase of an airport that never turned a net profit, say “cut” and demand some decent action.
The film might not end up being the one people expected but it just might be good enough to stop the audience booing.
I look forward to the popcorn…