A complex of abandoned railway works in Ashford, in the south-eastern English county of Kent, are to be converted into a TV and film studio complex as part of a £250m ($310m) redevelopment project. The Newtown Works regeneration scheme and its Ashford International Film Studios will be a “game changer for the creative and digital sector in Kent”, according to Gavin Cleary, CEO of inward investment agency Locate in Kent.

Set over 12 acres, the regenerated site will include four TV and film studios, a 120-room hotel and a 10,000-square-foot leisure hub. The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co) has partnered with property developer Quinn Estates to build Newtown Works by 2022, after Ashford Borough Council approved the plans at a virtual planning committee meeting in April 2020.

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“The Newtown Works development will be one of the most important economic drivers for the borough in the next few years, and demonstrates the confidence that investors continue to have in Ashford,” Gerry Clarkson, leader of Ashford Council, said in a press release.

A creative core

The redevelopment is part of Kent’s plans to establish a creative industries hub in the region and capitalise on its Eurostar high-speed rail connectivity to build international links with streaming companies, including Netflix’s headquarters in Amsterdam. “This site will be a major European filming hub. The growth of filming in Kent is enormous and this will turbo-charge it,” says Mark Quinn, CEO of Quinn Estates.

The new Ashford International studios will bring “more than 2000 job opportunities all the way through the supply chain”, according to Mr Cleary. This will add to the 11,000 people currently employed in the TV, film, video and photography industries in Kent and Medway, a 25% increase from 2015, according to Kent County Council. 

The site will also contain the Future Media Centre, a film school and educational hub developed in partnership with the University of Kent. “Investors and TV production companies can benefit from the access to an education network that is producing talent at every level from post-16 to masters [degree],” says Mr Cleary.

The launch of Ashford International Studios will build on the progress made in Kent by the Thames Estuary Production Corridor (TEPC), which was launched in 2017 by mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the South East Creative Economy Network. TEPC is Europe’s largest creative corridor, and received £4.3m funding from the UK government’s cultural development fund in 2019, helping to create more than 500 new creative industry jobs. 

“Unique in its scale and ambition, the TEPC will unlock transformational growth across north Kent and south Essex, and establish the region as a creative hub linked to London, Europe and other global markets,” the University of Kent said in a press release.

Ready for recovery 

While the creative sector has been slowed by the restrictions caused by coronavirus lockdown, preparation continues for Newtown Works to capitalise on the rising viewership gained by streaming services such as Netflix, as part of Kent’s larger plan to affirm its position as a leader in the production industry.

“Although the creative sector is suffering more than many due to the restrictions, it is also one of the most adaptable and resilient sectors.” says Mr Cleary. “We are laying the groundwork so that once the state of lockdown moves from emergency to recovery, we can be in a position where streaming services can make top-quality productions very quickly in our TV studios.” 

When the Newtown Railway was built in 1847, it was built to increase the region’s connectivity to London. With this connectivity now established, the Newtown Works will help the region become a centre for the creative industries.