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Sky Studios Elstree eyes planning rights for film sets; Paddington 3 in the mix

Hertfordshire studios where film crews shot Wicked starring Ariana Grande could get special planning rights for set building.

Hertsmere Borough Council could adopt two Local Development Orders (LDOs) which would give Sky Studios Elstree permission to install props, special effects, technical equipment and lighting.

Without these orders, firms might have to ask the authority for formal planning permission every time productions arrive on-site with new “operational requirements”.

Construction work at Sky’s Borehamwood site finished in March 2023, when Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh formally opened the final sound stage. Hertsmere Borough Council’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday, January 10, when council leaders will debate its position on the LDOs.

According to a council document about the main Sky site, “removing the barriers to relatively minor forms of development whilst ensuring that potentially harmful development is excluded from the LDO, will improve the usability of the site as a film studio”.

The LDO would “[support] the operational requirements of Sky Studios Elstree as a film and TV studio, thereby providing greater certainty for both Sky Studios Limited and nearby residents and businesses”.

The proposed order “is not time limited” but Hertsmere Borough Council could review or revoke the order at any time. The second LDO would cover Panattoni Park near Elstree Way, which Sky Studios Limited leases for additional storage and other facilities, for a period of 15 years.

Together, the orders cover 16 purposes, including the “design, construction, storage and installation of props and special effects”, the “design, making, storage and fitting of costumes”, any “technical operations”, the “provision of catering and associated facilities for cast and crew”, various means of “transportation”, and “post-production activities” for editing films.

Other developments may require formal planning permission. The draft LDOs demand Sky Studios Elstree keeps noise to at least 5 decibels below nearby background noise levels – or provide mitigation such as noise insulation if teams cannot achieve the target.

Hertsmere Borough Council has previously adopted an LDO for the EastEnders set at BBC Elstree Centre, also in Borehamwood.

The 30-year order means TV crews working on the soap can build structures within pre-agreed height parameters and can increase the set footprint by up to 20 per cent.

“Previously the studio has to submit planning applications for a variety of changes to the sets including alterations to the heights of buildings, facades and backdrops and signage,” a borough council summary reads.

“Due to the nature of the site as a working film set and the need to avoid publicity around future storylines, the exact details of what development will take place under the LDO are not currently known.”

According to Sky, its new Borehamwood site will generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK creative sector over its first five years.

The 2024 adaptation of the musical Wicked was the first production to film at the studios. Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo star in the feature film, which production giant Universal has confirmed is due for release in two parts first in the US on November 27 this year and the second in November 2025.

Sky Studios Elstree has also hosted Paddington in Peru starring Ben Whishaw and Olivia Colman, due out in UK cinemas on November 8.

A Sky representative said: “Sky Studios Elstree will attract a range of productions, everything from high-end TV to blockbuster films.

“This therefore means that the way the site is used can differ from production to production.

“For example, one production might need a catering marquee for its large workforce, others might need trailers or auxiliary office space for administration.

“The current process for setting up temporary structures means that Sky Studios must seek temporary planning permission for any temporary structures, for example, the current catering marquee or portacabins.

“Having LDOs in place simply means that many of these temporary structures, which would typically be expected to be granted planning permission, will not go through the planning process each time, freeing up planning officers time and allowing the studio site to better serve productions without administrative delays.”