Major £45 million film and television studio proposed for Doncaster site could create thousands of jobs

We already have a modest TV heritage, as all fans of Open All Hours will know.

Thursday, 8th February 2018, 6:58 am
Updated Thursday, 8th February 2018, 8:50 am
High Melton College

Doncaster even briefly had a movie premiere to raise money for Bluebell Wood Children's Hospital, when the film Shotgun Dave Rides East, starring Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi was filmed here.

But now, High Melton College could be set to become the centre of a 'game changing' Donnywood film and television industry, potentially creating thousands of jobs.

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A bid has been put in for the site by the firm 360 Degrees Media Limited, which would look to transform the site into a state of the art studio, which could create glitzy television drama on the scale of shows like Game of Thrones and The Crown.

It is one of a number of proposals for the site which have been put to its owners, Doncaster College, and no decision is likely until later this year. It has the backing of two industry experts, Alistair Maclean-Clark and Mark Beilby.

According to a High Melton Studios Economic Impact report, by Regeneris Consulting, the scheme could create thousands of jobs if it gets the go ahead.

They believe it could create around 6,700 new jobs in Doncaster within the film sector and its supply chain. Those would include 390 on the direct payroll of the studio, and 400 contractors working on the site.

The firm, 360 Degrees Media, wants to start building its studio this year if it get the go ahead, and says it wants to create a film and television studio; with a technology hub, a special effects unit, a hi-tech hub and film and TV academy attached to it.

The plans are being masterminded by a former Disney boss, Mr Maclean-Clark. He ran Disney's production division in Europe, after having previously worked for Andrew Lloyd-Webber's production company.

Now he sees Doncaster as an ideal place to fill a shortage studio space and production staff that the UK is currently experiencing in a multibillion pound industry.

The plan would combine the studio with training which would allow Doncaster College's existing students to do specialist training at the new site on its visual effects facility. It has met with the college to discuss this.

Mr Maclean-Clark is keen to use the High Melton site, which was the 15th site that his firm had looked at for its planned project.

He said: "It is an ideal site. There's space to build, and an exciting building allowing for training to start quickly.

"Also, you need somewhere quiet for a studio, and somewhere with good connectivity. This has that - it is our ideal site because our plans are for training and a new studio.

"At present there is a shortfall in the industry in both studio space and training.

"For the studio, we would be looking at television production first. Once a studio has build a reputation for television, it will often move into films. We'd initially look to attract UK and US productions.

"As soon as we complete the studios we'd look at having several stages, and be capable of major projects.

"We've been coming up to Doncaster two or three times a month for the last two years to look at this.

"We would work closely with Doncaster College to help take students from their training courses. The academy at the studio would train 750 students annually, with courses for three months or so. People would be able to do their basic training at Doncaster and last mile training at our academy.

"It could be a major aspiration for youngsters in the area.

"We are targeting people to meet demand. If you look at programmes like Game of Thrones, the visual effects business is huge now, from feature films to television, and there is a huge shortfall in visual effects staff. The aim is to train them at High Melton."

He believes Brexit could make shortages worse in the UK, increasing the demand for newly trained staff.

Mr Maclean-Clark is also aware South Yorkshire has a lower than average number of jobs in film and television compared to the rest of the UK. In Doncaster the figures in the consultant's report is 80. In London the figure is 87,500.

If the studio plan does come to fruition, it could also open the door to local landmarks being transformed into film locations. Bosses behind the bid believe there are many country houses in the area that would work, with landmark buildings close by including the likes of Brodsworth Hall and Wentworth Woodhouse, but without the traffic issues that surround the London area.

And they believe that giving local landscapes and landmarks a higher public profile, they could also provide a boost for local tourism. They say coach tours still include Holmfirth as a venue because of its links to the Last of the Summer Wine, written by Doncaster screenwriter Roy Clarke., and 65,324 visitor enquiries concerning the show were recorded for 2011.

They believe High Melton would equip young people with skills that are extremely rare regionally, which would provide them access to a prestige industry that is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the UK economy. Mr Maclean-Clark believes the site could handle two productions at a time.

The total investment for the construction of the Studio and Hub is estimated at £45 million, split into three phases.

The plans have been welcomed by Doncaster business leaders.

Doncaster Chamber chief executive Dan Fell said: “The proposed developments at High Melton by 360 Media are incredibly exciting for Doncaster and enthusiastically supported by the Chamber.

"We believe that this inward investment into the borough could be as game changing for our economy Doncaster Sheffield Airport and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park were.

"The Chamber is particularly enthused by the potential that this project has to catalyse the development of Doncaster’s burgeoning creative and cultural industries sector; we are also excited by the role that this project could play – via the mooted film, tv and VFX academy – in enhancing the skills and education of Doncaster’s young people.

"We hope and anticipate that this key project for the region’s economy will get the green light in the near future; we urge all parties involved with making a decision about the project to give it their wholehearted backing in the coming weeks and months.”

Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband said: "I am really excited by 360 Degrees Media’s plans for a film studio and digital film academy. It could make a huge difference to jobs, the economy and culture of Doncaster.

"We need more high quality jobs and training, and this initiative could provide just that."

The faces behind the plan

The industry faces behind the plans for a High Melton studio are well known within the television and film industry.

Alistair Maclean-Clark was Disney's director of production and progamming, initially based in LA and then in London for seven years. During his tenure his role included overseeing the production budgets of all European shows, developing creative formats for international sales, and managing production teams across Europe

He sourced the investment for the first private investment deal with BBC Films.

Early in his career he was an advertising executive with Ogilvy and Mather working for clients such as Ford and Guinness and Production Executive with The Really Useful Group.

Mark Beilby was managing director at leading investment banks Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan for 13 years , running the media and technology financing divisions.

At Dresdner Kleinwort he was part of a team that financed over $2bn of Hollywood hedge fund film deals, bringing to market such films as "Borat" and "The Devil Wears Prada".

In 2008 he co-founded Lumi Technologies which became a market leader in the provision of insight and engagement for Higher and Further Education through the mobile device, and was selected in 2013 in the first cohort of pathfinder UK tech growth companies under the Government’s Future 50 programme

He was co-founder and a director of the $25m Ingenious Senior Film Fund, providing finance for independent films. This fund backed "The Dressmaker" starring Kate Winslet and "6 Days" starring Jamie Bell and Mark Strong.