Hollywood heads for Hillingdon

Camera action: Labour peer and US giant in pounds 225m theme park deal as Britons bid for awards
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The Independent Online
The British entertainment industry received a massive boost yesterday with the announcement that two media giants are teaming up to build a pounds 225m film and television complex and theme park in outer London.

Warner Brothers Movie World, a joint venture between the US media giant Time Warner and the television station owner MAI, will house film and television studios on a 150-acre site in Hillingdon, west London.

"Movie World will provide a major boost for the British film industry by giving the UK the capacity to meet the demands of an increasingly global film and TV industry," said the Labour peer Lord Hollick, managing director of MAI, which is also planning a pounds 3bn merger with United News and Media, owner of Express Newspapers.

"The studios will also reinforce west London's concentration of specialist media skills and help to retain the nation's wealth of film and television-making talent," he added.

Immediately after the announcement, three local Tory MPs - Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge), John Wilkinson (Ruislip/Northwood) and Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) served notice of their "total opposition" to the scheme. Sir Michael, who is president of the London Green Belt Council, said he had asked the Environment Secretary John Gummer to call in the application forthwith.

Billed to open in three years, the first film studio to be built in Britain since 1945 will feature Rick's Cafe and the Dirty Harry Bar alongside "thrill rides", studio tours, and "family adventures" based on English and American films. It will also showcase Loony Tunes and movie characters such as Batman and Superman.

"It will attract international movie makers to the UK. And it gives visitors a chance to see behind the scenes of a real working studio," said Nick Winslow, president of Warner Bros' recreation enterprises division.

Sandy Reisenbach, Warner Bros' executive vice-president of marketing and planning, added that the company had a long history of working with the UK on film and television production, having invested more than pounds 230m in the last 15 years alone. "We see Movie World as a natural extension of this relationship," he said.

Time Warner and MAI are already involved in a similar venture in Australia, voted that country's top tourist attraction for the last two years, while another Movie World is to open in Dusseldorf in Germany this summer.

Executives from both companies were keen to stress the advantages for the area. The complex will provide some 3,500 jobs, 2,500 of them local. For this reason, Hillingdon Borough Council is likely to support the venture, which will occupy a green-belt site.

Executives told how they had scoured South-east England looking at more than 150 potential sites, but settled on the west London plot because of ease of access through road and rail.

The centre, designed to use the skills of the large number of film and television workers who live in the area, is close to both Pinewood and Shepperton film studios and the BBC Television Centre.

The plan comes amid a time of expansion for the British film and television industry as a number of Hollywood studios have recently shot big-budget films in Britain.

Pinewood, the long-established studio owned by the Rank Organisation, is operating at full capacity. Its rival, Shepperton Studio Centre, is being renovated, and plans were recently announced for a new production complex, Third Millennium Studios, on an old aerodrome in Leavesden, Hertfordshire.

The Movie World complex will vie with Alton Towers and Thorpe Park for visitors in Britain's expanding theme park market. Time Warner and MAI, who will be equal partners in the venture, said they planned to exploit their existing media empires to promote the theme park side of the business. The Australian venture, for example, is the site of a television soap opera.

Lord Feldman, of the English Tourist Board, said: "Warner Brothers Movie World will enhance the attractiveness of London as a tourist destination among both overseas and domestic visitors, as well as day-trippers."

News analysis, page 21