Recommendation: Conditional approval subject to legal agreement
Proposal: Full application for the erection of Film studio stages and workshops (for a temporary period of 5 years). To include access to the site via Old House Lane / Cutbush Lane, car parking, ancillary buildings to support the use of the site and landscaping, with a workshop to be included on Gateway 4 plot at Thames Valley Science Park.
Applicant: Shinfield Studios
The Committee received and reviewed a report about this application, set out in agenda pages 5 to 92.
The Committee were advised that the Members’ Update included:
· Correction that the size of the buildings should read 14,080m2;
· Various amendments of recommendations A and C;
· Updated list of plans associated with condition 2;
· Updated document reference for condition 8, and updated Construction Environmental Management Plan reference;
· Amendment of condition 17 to remove reference to hard landscaping as these details had since been approved;
· Additional condition related to a lighting plan;
· Clarification that 30 cycle spaces were proposed;
· Clarification that the Ecology Officer raised no objections and the package of offsite biodiversity enhancements had been secured;
· Correction to paragraph 10, to read 2017 rather than 2007;
· Correction to paragraph 51, to state 200m2 of solar panels rather than 200 panels as stated;
· Correction to paragraph 61, to state that 10 blue badge spaces would be provided rather than the 9 stated;
· Letter of full support from Arborfield and Newland Parish Council;
· Two letters of support from the Department of Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport outlining the economic gains of the media sector;
· 4 further letters of support and a further letter of objection from residents;
· Letter of objection from the owners of Shinfield Grange – University College Estate of Management.
Nick Smith, applicant, spoke in support of the application. Nick stated that despite the current economic downturn, the film industry was ‘booming’, however a lack of studio space was limiting the growth of this sector. Nick added that there was a real and significant opportunity with this application to put Shinfield, Wokingham, and Berkshire on the global film studio map. Nick stated that the inward investment of millions of pounds in addition to the local job creation was significant, which would have lasting long terms benefits going forwards. Content production was the fastest growing industry in the UK, with quarter four of 2020 generating £1.2 billion of inward investment. Nick stated that there was an acute shortage of studio space to meet the needs of big names such as Disney, Netflix and Apple, and the Government was targeting a 65 percent growth which equated to approximately 1.8 million square feet of studio space across the UK. Provision of these spaces would benefit communities, creating investment opportunities and many new jobs. Nick added that a typical production would spend £80m to £100m in any 12 month period, with a significant proportion of this spend occurring locally. In addition, a typical production would require around 500 crew, which would create a number of local highly paid job opportunities. Nick stated that he hoped to be able to bring these benefits to Wokingham and Shinfield, and extended his thanks to Shinfield Parish Council and local residents for their support.
Nick Paterson-Neild, agent, spoke in support of the application. Nick stated that national policy supported the creative sector, which played an important role in supporting collaboration, innovation, productivity and sustainability whilst driving the economic prospects of the local area, whilst expressly supporting additional studio capacity. Nick added that this was the first step towards developing the University City Valley proposal. Nick concluded by stating that the development would allow for collaboration between creative content providers, whilst driving inward investment and providing local jobs.
Jim Frewin, Ward Member, spoke in support of the application. Jim stated that he was broadly in favour of the proposal and fully understood the need for the speed of this application, however it was important to ensure that planning policy was applied equally to all applicants. Jim asked that officers confirm that all due process had been applied to this planning application. Jim asked for clarity and confirmation regarding the officer comment that the development would not have a severe impact on the local highways network, and asked for analysis that confirmed this particularly for the M4 junction 11 blackboy roundabout on Lower Earley Way. Jim queried what modelling and analysis had been carried out to confirm contradictory statements within the report, one stating that there would be significant morning an evening peak travel patterns, whilst the other stated that traffic would be spread out more evenly throughout the day. Jim stated that this development was proposed to be carried out on top of a number of other ongoing developments within the community, and queried whether a cumulative community impact had been undertaken. Jim stated that the local sewerage system had regularly failed residents in the area, and noted that the report stated that the development would not impact on this further, and asked for confirmation that this was indeed the case. Concluding Jim asked how many 100 year flood occurrences had occurred within the last 5 years, as this area regularly flooded.
Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Ward Member, spoke in support of the application. Charlotte stated her disappointment that the temporary studios were proposed on mainly open countryside, contrary to policy CP11, when other land within the science park had not been used first. Charlotte added that it was therefore especially important that the S106 agreement was secured in a timely fashion in order to secure measures to mitigate against this, and to agree a plan to dismantle the site should permanent permission not be granted. Charlotte asked that if the Committee were minded to approve the application, that the Chairman of the Planning Committee would be granted full oversight of the S106 agreement. Charlotte suggested that the Planning Committee may wish to put further detail into the landscape and planting, as the studios would be 18m high and would dominate the neighbouring countryside and college at Shinfield Grange, contrary to policies CP3, CC03 and TB21. Charlotte was of the opinion that further conditions should be required, to ensure the planting of further mature trees in order to protect visual amenity in a timely fashion. Charlotte was of the opinion that the current sewerage system did not have the capacity for a development of this scale. On balance, Charlotte stated that she was in favour of the proposals as it would, in time, bring with it economic prosperity to the area whilst creating hundreds of new jobs in a variety of different roles.
Simon Weeks queried whether Old House Farm was residential, queried whether the delay of further works to the science park would reduce the pressure on the upgraded road network, queried whether the longer operating time of the site would reduce peak traffic concerns, and queried what colour the major buildings would be as this would have an impact on the development’s impact on the countryside. Christopher Howard, case officer, stated that there was a residential element to the Old House Farm which was located around 100m away from the proposed development. Christopher stated that part of the current proposals included that further works to the Science Park reserved matters would not progress until further modelling had been carried out, which would reduce traffic impact on the roads. Regarding the extended operating times of the site and the impact on the road network, Judy Kelly, Highways Development Manager, stated that the daily profile of the site meant a 7am to 7pm usage, which would peak before the normal network peak in the morning and after the usual 6pm network peak. Judy added that the site would create approximately 70 peak hour vehicle movements which could be accommodated by the road network. Relating to the colour and appearance of the proposed main buildings, Christopher Howard stated that they would be dark brown and grey cladded with additional landscaping, which made the proposals acceptable.
Andrew Mickleburgh noted the supportive comments from the Parish Council and local residents, and the local jobs that the proposals would create. In addition, Andrew noted the concerns raised by the local Ward Members. Andrew queried what the parking standards were for the site and whether all parking needed to be provided on site by condition, queried whether the modelling done with Shepperton Studios was a like for like comparison, queried whether the additional trips related to the proposals had been modelled in relation to increased vehicle emissions, queried how far the traffic modelling had been carried out geographically, queried how the proposals were considered acceptable in terms of appearance within the context its countryside surroundings, and queried why the application was for a temporary period rather than permanent. Judy Kelly stated that although the proposals would create 600 new jobs, not all personnel would be on site at the same time. There were no specific parking standards for film studios, however other similar studios had been looked at for comparison. Modelling suggested that 175 spaces would be needed in the worst case, and 181 spaces would be provided. In addition, the area was well connected via bus routes and greenways. In relation to the comparison with Shepperton Studios, Judy stated that this had been carried out on a per metre squared basis. Judy stated that all major junctions which could be affected by the proposals had been included in the modelling. The University of Reading had agreed not to bring forward the larger science park site until further modelling had been carried out, which would reduce the pressure on the road network. Christopher Howard stated that the trip generation would be much less than the amount consented for at the wider science park, which would result in a net reduction of vehicle emissions compared to the consented amount. Christopher Howard clarified that the appearance of the proposals had to be viewed in the context of it being a temporary structure. In relation to the application for temporary permission, Christopher stated that this was a decision made by the applicant, and all buildings would be required to be removed and the land restored by the end of the 5 year permission should an extension or application for permanent permission not be submitted and approved.
Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey queried how many apprenticeships would be offered on site, queried how the site would be heated, and queried whether additional photovoltaic panels could be installed to a total equivalent of 25 percent of the energy usage of the site. Christopher Howard stated that the S106 agreement required provision of apprenticeships on site or a financial contribution to the work skills plan. Christopher clarified that the workshop and stage buildings would not require heating due to the specifics of how the buildings would be constructed. Christopher clarified that the size of the stage building restricted the total number of photovoltaic panels that could be provided on site.
Abdul Loyes stated that the Shepperton Studios had very little residential dwellings nearby and therefore may not be comparable in highways terms. Abdul queried whether the expected noise levels would be acceptable. Judy Kelly stated that whilst Shepperton was more remote, the trip rate that had been used was a worst case scenario. As such, the proposals were possibly overestimating the trip rates and parking requirements as this site would have better access and public transport links. Regarding the issue of noise, Christopher Howard stated that conditions 21 and 22 related to this, and added that many loud noises heard in films or television shows were edited in post-production. In addition, no complaints had been received regarding noise from residents nearby to the studios located in Arborfield.
Chris Bowring stated that there were positives and negatives to this application. The positives included additional local jobs and investment, whilst the negatives included development within the countryside and an 18m high building which would result in poorer amenity within the countryside. Chris queried whether workshop 4 had existing planning permission, and queried whether it would be possible to excavate below the site in order to reduce the 18m building height. Christopher Howard confirmed that workshop 4 had existing planning permission under outline consent as a part of the science park, however it did not have consent to be used as a film studio. Christopher clarified that the science park gateway building was 15m in height, whilst the British Museum building was 12m in height. Excavation below the site would limit access provision and drainage. Simon Weeks commented that excavation could be an option if the application was for permanent permission, however the limited period of use created different circumstances.
Pauline Jorgensen stated that she was largely in favour of the proposals. Pauline queried how the land would be restored at the end of the 5 year permission, should it be granted. Christopher Howard stated that condition 3 related to restoration of the site, and this was enforceable. Connor Corrigan, Service Manager – Planning and Delivery, stated that this was a standard condition for many schemes of a temporary nature. Connor added that should the applicant fall in to liquidation, responsibility to restore the land would fall to the landowner, the University of Reading.
Malcolm Richards queried what mitigation would be in place for local residential properties should deliveries for construction take place overnight to allow for early morning construction, queried whether the buildings being a green colour could allow them to fit in better, and queried whether any trees would be felled as a part of this application. Christopher Howard stated that apart from Old House Farm, the nearest residential property was 200m away. In addition the buildings would be fabricated offsite and the site was located in an isolated area. Christopher added that construction traffic would not pass any local residential properties. Christopher stated that the proposed materials and colours were similar to the British Museum buildings, which fitted in well with its surroundings. Christopher confirmed that some hedgerows would be cut along Cutbush Lane, however these would be compensated via landscaping conditions and biodiversity net gains. In addition, the remediation plan would seek to secure additional planting at the end of the permission period.
Gary Cowan was of the opinion that once the principle of development had been established, it was very likely that an application for permanent permission would be recommended for approval by officers. Gary added his agreement with the statements made by local Ward Members. Gary had concerns regarding the safety of the access proposals to the site, and sought assurances regarding this. Judy Kelly state that access to the site would not be off the junction of the Eastern Relief Rad with Cutbush Lane, as all traffic would go from the Eastern Relief Road roundabout junction via the link road through the science park. Judy stated that there would be no opportunity for vehicles to use the whole length of Cutbush Lane to gain access to the site.
Carl Doran was of the opinion that the temporary nature of this application was messy. Carl queried whether cyclists and pedestrians could still use Cutbush Lane, and queried the need for a 3m high boundary fence. Judy Kelly confirmed that Cutbush Lane would only be stopped for vehicle movements, and would therefore allow for pedestrians and cyclists to pass through in addition to emergency vehicles. Christopher Howard stated that the 3m fence was required due to the operational aspect of the studio, and would be of a mesh design.
RESOLVED That application number 210387 be approved, subject to conditions and informatives as set out in agenda pages 6 to 16, various amendments to conditions as set out in the Members’ Update, and additional condition as set out in the Members’ Update.