Just a quick step away from our civic offices, and home to television favourites such as Strictly Come Dancing and Netflix’s new multi-million pound production The Crown, Elstree Studios continues to go from strength to strength.
- Project: Elstree Film Studios
- Objectives: A low risk, enterprising asset which contributes to the local economy and generates revenue for the council
- Timescale: 1996 to present
- Cost to authority: Cost of initial purchase and set-up was £5.6m
- Number of staff working on project: No council staff, except for specific freeholder asset management or eligible procurement projects. Elstree Film Studios employs 13 staff
- Outcomes: From Elstree Film Studios Hertsmere BC derives £1.4m revenue
- Officer contact details: Donald Graham
As well as benefiting the local economy and putting Hertsmere firmly on the film and television production map, the prospering studios in Borehamwood also enables me to sleep a little easier at night as it’s an asset owned by Hertsmere BC, bringing in more than £1.4m in revenue each year.
Despite a proud history of film production dating back 90 years and with Star Wars, Superman and Moby Dick among its list of credits, the studios had fallen into a derelict and unloved state by the 1990s. When half the site was sold for the development of a Tesco superstore, we stepped in to save the rest of the present-day Elstree Studios, acquiring the site and using Section 106 allocations to ensure its proud heritage of film and television production was preserved for the area.
Elstree Studios, a wholly owned and successful subsidiary of the council, now operates at full capacity, with constant high demand for production space. Big Brother, Celebrity Juice, The Chase and Pointless call Elstree their home and, in recent years, film blockbusters such as Paddington, The Danish Girl, The King’s Speech and Suffragette.
We’ve expanded the production and ancillary facilities available at the site. In 2014 we completed specialist clearance of an asbestos-contaminated, four-acre site at the rear of the studios, helped by a loan from the local enterprise partnership. This paved the way for the development of a new backlot, which has been used by Netflix’s The Crown to replicate the front of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.
Plans are already in place to build a 21,000 sq ft film stage area (with 26,000 sq ft ancillary facilities) at the rear of the studios site, similar to the highly successful George Lucas Stages.
We’re looking into the potential for further expansion of production space and undertaking a market testing pre-procurement exercise. This aims to gauge interest from the media industry in developing another stage for film and television use, with ancillary areas and workshops at the front of the existing site.
Our main aim is to ensure the site can operate at its maximum capacity, not only so that it remains a highly prestigious facility for the industry but also so that it can continue to reap huge benefits for the borough’s residents.
Elstree Studios provides an important boost to the local economy, offering jobs and bringing in an estimated £17,000 to businesses in the local area per day when television productions are in full swing, and around £30,000 per day when film production is at its peak.
George lucas stage
Having Elstree Studios in Hertsmere has derived further benefits for us too, enabling us to develop a close and positive working relationship with the BBC at the its Elstree Centre nearby, which has the Eastenders and Holby City sets. We’ve been working closely with BBC Elstree Centre to facilitate the multi-million pound development of that facility, which will keep them based in the borough and contributing to the local economy for many years to come.
Without a doubt, the success of the studios led to the decision to base the Elstree University Technical College nearby, offering vocational education in production skills, specialist multimedia and digital media for the entertainment industry providing schooling for more than 300 14-19 year olds. Elstree Studios works closely with the EUTC to harness the talent of the next generation of film and television professionals.
We’re also signed up to a Hertfordshire-wide Film Friendly Charter which aims to build on the county’s reputation as a first-class filming destination, bringing further investment, income from screen tourism and additional jobs to the county.
What have we learned from owning the studios? There needs to be a sound governance structure in place and the business end of the operation needs to be run by experts from the media and production industry.
The revenue we bring in from the studios is equivalent to around a fifth of the borough’s total annual council tax income, and so it plays a key role in keeping council tax as low as possible for our residents, helping to protect the vital services we deliver. It shows we can apply enterprise and flair to the management of our investments and it is helping us in the face of reductions in government grants.
Donald Graham, chief executive, Hertsmere BC