The proposals put forward by USA-based Blackhall Studios, and associated creative and digital hub would take up most of the remaining land allocated in the original outline planning for the Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield, just south of the M4. The science park is already home to a range of high-tech buildings and tenants, with the British Museum Archaeological Research Collection currently under construction. These would not be affected by the new proposals.
With the potential of much needed studio space to address a national shortage, the University hopes that film studios at Thames Valley Science Park could become a hub for a range of supporting creative and digital businesses. Options for the future of the park could encourage clusters of businesses in similar fields, linked to areas of world-leading academic expertise at the University.
Over the next 20 years, the Thames Valley Science Park could grow these clusters to encourage and encompass a wider range of specialist employment.
Samantha Foley, the University’s Chief Financial Officer, said: “These are exciting proposals that would focus the future of Thames Valley Science Park around key areas of expertise at the University of Reading including film and TV, heritage and the arts, and innovation and technology.
“We want the science park to reflect our institutional priorities of supporting excellence, environmental sustainability and building strong communities. We will work closely with our neighbours and the wider community to create long-term opportunities to benefit Shinfield and the whole region.”
The University of Reading will now listen to local people and other stakeholders on how a broader vision may look at Thames Valley Science Park, including these areas of innovation. The University of Reading will submit a response to the Wokingham Borough Council Draft Local Plan in light of this feedback and a review of technical and need considerations.
Any further developments would look to encourage closer engagement with local communities, schools and organisations, as well as students and staff at the University of Reading, providing opportunities for training and careers in a variety of fields of economic importance to the UK economy.
Located west of London on the outskirts of Reading, the new studios are ideally located to make the most of the creative corridor being developed through Thames Valley. It is set to employ up to 3,000 people, including 1,500 directly on site and contribute more than £500million per year to UK Plc.
Ryan Millsap, Chairman and CEO of Blackhall, said: “We are excited to be establishing a base in the UK. Blackhall is the global standard for entertainment production space and our US-based clients like Disney, Universal and Sony are all asking us to expand into the UK to meet their desire to create productions here. They wouldn’t trust just anyone to meet their high standards, so we are delighted to serve them in this way.
“We are very excited about the prospect of investing in the UK creative industries as one of the most vibrant markets in the world. We hope that the site at Thames Valley Science Park will be the start of a series of investments in the UK which will see investment in jobs, training and the creative arts across a range of disciplines. The UK has a wealth of talent that our UK companies recognise and want to partner with for decades to come.”
Blackhall will combine its film studio management experience from its studios in the United States with the expertise of the UK team headed by Nick Smith, previously Executive Director with Pinewood-Shepperton plc.
The deal marks Blackhall’s entry to the UK market and is the first of several investment opportunities being considered and it is hoped that the new facility will be open early in 2022.
Nick Smith, Blackhall’s President and COO of Blackhall UK, said: “Britain has an enviable array of filmmaking talent, but the industry is short of high-quality studio facilities capable of catering for the new and emerging technologies that will form the core of television and film production in the future.
“Our proposals support the UK Government’s desire to see this sector’s annual inward investment deliver £4bn by 2025. Blackhall is committed to play its part in making that vision a reality. This initial investment of £150 million into the UK economy will create a new powerhouse of creative production and educational achievement, as well as generating up to 3,000 new jobs.”
Blackhall was assisted in securing a site by officials at the Department for International Trade (DIT), who have been working with the business over the past year. DIT officials worked with teams in Atlanta and Los Angeles, as well as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to secure the investment.