Films could be made in Ashford by the end of 2021 – with a planning application for the Newtown railway works scheme set to be submitted this week.
A detailed plan for the Quinn Estates project was unveiled when the prolific development company held a public consultation at the Ashford Rail Club last Wednesday.
Two or three universities are expected to move onto the site, training students in film making techniques while giving them on-set experience.
Entertainment giants including Netflix, Amazon and HBO could fill the studios, which will sit alongside 300 apartments, a hotel and workshops.
Alongside the four 1,860 sq m studios, about 300 new homes will also be introduced into the train sheds – buildings which have lain largely unused since 1972.
The public consultation, held at The Railway Club in Beaver Road, was attended by a number of interested residents.
Beaver Lane resident Keith Wells, who once had a job at the works, said: “I’m very pleased they’re using a brownfield site and not covering more green land in concrete.
“I really hope they make the houses actually affordable, or at least set affordable rent prices, so that people on minimum wage can move in.”
One of the main sticking points among residents is access onto the site, with many saying Newtown Road won’t be able to cope with increased congestion or use by big vehicles.
Howard Green, who lives close to the town centre, said: “The only thing I’d be interested in finding out more about is getting in and out of the place.
“Why don’t they improve on the access road to the site and put in a roundabout around the clocktower?
“You’ve got that humpback bridge on one end and the railway bridge on the other, so you definitely have constraints.
“The rest of it they can do what they like with. Anything’s an improvement on what it is now.”
Netflix linked to film studios
As part of the scheme, new traffic lights will be installed at the current access road to the site and a similar signalling system will be built on the humpback bridge.
Larger goods vehicles will be able to use a new road, set to be constructed further up Newtown Road.
In this venture, Quinn Estates will be working with The Creative District Improvement Co (TCDICo), which currently has a £500 million portfolio comprising similar projects.
Adjoining the train shed – the longest listed building in Britain – will be a 125-room hotel with 50 serviced apartments and a joint bar and restaurant.
Extensive retail units, a six-storey car park and a production office set to be more than five storeys tall will also be constructed.
Huw Evans, managing director at Quinn Estates, said: “The TCDICo has already committed a substantial amount of money to this project, somewhere in the region of £500,000.
“It wants to be delivering films from the fourth quarter of 2021, so we need to start on this by the middle of 2020.
“We’ve been in detailed discussion with Historic England for the last six months.
“These buildings were used to make trains and this is about giving them a new lease of life and a modern role in a growing industry.
“There’s a massive under-provision of film space in England, despite this country being the second most popular to film in. This project will help address that and in a place that’s incredibly well-linked to the whole of England.
“We could have done a residential scheme and got more money, but how many times do you get to build a film hub and give empty historic buildings a new purpose?”
The Creative District Improvement Co (TCDICo) will be bringing acoustic, production and engineering expertise to the project, hoping to make the proposal a success.
Jeremy Rainbird from the creative industry specialist said: “I actually grew up in Bethersden and I’d come here as a kid on Saturdays.
“It’s like everything in the world – it’s changed a lot and the investment that’s come into the town is really exciting.
“The media often say how we have a lack of film studios but nobody’s banging the drum about having a skilled workforce.
“We’re getting two possibly three educational institutions to take a unit and train in production, post-production and filmmaking while giving them experience in a working film environment.
“Ashford’s always been my local town and I’m really excited to bring something world class to the town.”