PROTESTERS and supporters of the controversial Pinewood Studios expansion locked horns for the first time this morning as the appeal into the £200m plans began.
Terry Phillimore, the Government’s nominated planning inspector, heard opening statements from both sides after the proposal for the studios' Greenbelt extension was dismissed by South Bucks District Council in May.
Stop Project Pinewood (SPP) campaigners dubbed the project “a pig with lipstick” which should be thrown out in the same way as Pinewood’s previous appeal in 2009.
SBDC insist the project will cause “substantial” harm to the Green Belt and could be built elsewhere, and questioned the business case put forward by the world-famous studios.
But studio bosses insist it is a “UK success story” which will be prevented from bringing in significant economic benefits unless it is allowed to expand at the current site.
Martin Kingston QC, representing Pinewood Shepperton Ltd, said the economic benefits could not be ignored, with the film industry contributing £4.6billion to UK GDP in 2011.
He said: “Pinewood is a huge British success story from a commercial and policy perspective to be celebrated as such.
“It has in the past and continues now to contribute enormously to the UK economy at national, regional and local scale.
He later added: “Failure to grant planning permission would represent a failure to grasp a significant opportunity which has been carefully husbanded and promoted.”
Mr Kingston said the lack of capacity and having to turn business away is damaging the studios, that the proposal is not “footloose” and must be built on the current site.
The studios also insist the appeal must be viewed on its own merits, not those of the previous ‘Project Pinewood’ and that sustainability and landscaping changes will ensure Greenbelt damage is minimised.
Simon Bird QC, acting on behalf of SBDC, said the studios had underestimated the harm to the Green Belt and questioned the business case promising to deliver over 3000 jobs.
He said: “The impact on the Green Belt would be the permanent loss of a substantial area of open Green Belt and the further fragmentation of the Green Belt as a whole, running to four out of five Green Belt purposes.
He added: “The projections of sustained growth over a 20 year period do not justify the weight placed upon them, given the extremely volatile nature of the film industry and its inherent unpredictability.”
The council believes more could be done to expand within the existing Pinewood site, and that the area is “inherently unsustainable” as concluded by the previous inspector in 2009.
It also claims the expansion could be easily shifted elsewhere, especially the office space earmarked in the plans.
Charlie Hopkins, speaking on behalf of SPP, said the project is similar enough to the previous one to be rejected and that government guidance on Green Belt should prevail.
He said: "It is not without a very strong sense of déjà vu that many of us find ourselves here again.
"No amount of superficial tweaking and beautification can make the site suddenly sustainable. In planning terms the site will remain a pig, albeit one with lipstick.
"Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves should not mean worse lives for future generations."
The inquiry at the Iver Heath studios is scheduled to last 16 days, with SBDC making its case this week and SPP’s turn next week.
Pinewood will state its case in week three, after which the appeal will go to Secretary of State Eric Pickles for a final decision.