The fate of a multi-million-pound film studio in a picturesque Buckinghamshire town will be decided next week.

Plans for a 36-hectare film studio development on Greenbelt land near the A404 in Little Marlow were first submitted to Buckinghamshire Council back in May 2022, and the proposal has been the subject of widespread debate, both locally and further afield, in the ensuing 17 months. 

Sharp dividing lines have been drawn between developers promising economic growth and thousands of new jobs in the area, and environmental campaigners predicting traffic chaos and damage to local wildlife.

The ongoing saga will come to a head next Monday, October 23, when Buckinghamshire Council's Strategic Sites Committee meets in Aylesbury to decide whether the Marlow Film Studios planning application should be approved or rejected. 

The proposed site would include the construction of sound stages and backlots as well as parking facilities, wildlife habitats, new cycle and pedestrian routes and an upgrade of the 50-year-old Westhorpe Interchange (A4155/A404).

In a planning officer’s report released ahead of Monday’s meeting, the application was recommended for refusal for reasons including the “significant effect the development could have on a nearby Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation” and the site’s designation within the Little Marlow Lakes Country Park, parts of which the council has a responsibility to designate as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).

Despite the recommendation, a spokesperson for Marlow Film Studios remained hopeful that “significant support” including from Buckinghamshire Business First, who described the proposal as “making sustainable transport options more accessible for the surrounding communities” and “broadening the ecology of the film industry in the county”, would bolster the application to councillors on the Strategic Sites Committee.

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They said: “This support echoes the strength of our vision to transform spoiled land alongside the A404 into a once-in-a-generation opportunity to which young people are particularly attuned, bringing exceptional benefits to the community and wider region.

“The 4,000 jobs, hundreds of educational places, upgraded transport infrastructure and a local economic injection of £3.5 billion over the coming decade and beyond plus the community benefits which follow, are appreciated by those who balance the substance of our proposals.”

At a Parish Meeting held by Marlow Town Council earlier this week, however, residents of the town voiced their near-unanimous opposition to the project, with one person describing it as a “monstrosity”.

Speaking after the event, Sam Kershaw, co-chair of the campaign group Save Marlow’s Greenbelt said: “This evening gave a clear indication of the town’s feelings about the studio. They recognise the deficiencies, they recognise the traffic problems that are going to occur, and they recognise the loss of the Greenbelt and what a tragedy that would be.”

The proposed development’s impact on traffic and highways in the area has also been a subject of ongoing concern, with the local highway authority stating that traffic generated by the site could have “an unacceptable impact” on the highway network based on the information currently available.

However, a recent National Highways report accepted that the proposed upgrade of the Westhorpe Interchange could help to offset future traffic build-up, although said it required further evidence that congestion mitigation measures would be effective. 

The Strategic Sites Committee meeting on Marlow Film Studios will take place in The Oculus building in Aylesbury at 1pm on Monday, October 23. A webcast of the meeting will also be available on Buckinghamshire Council’s website.