Council wants to make Stevenage a destination for filmmakers

Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council

Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council - Credit: Courtesy of Stevenage Borough Co

Film crews could become a more common sight in Stevenage, after councillors backed plans to make the town more attractive to filmmakers in an effort to keep up with Hertfordshire councils which have cashed in on new productions.

The new plan will involve a more streamlined process to allow production companies to apply to film in the town, which Stevenage Borough Council hopes will raise the area’s profile nationally and result in a rise in tourism.

The move comes as neighbouring councils benefit from an increase in filming across Hertfordshire, with more expected to come following the completion of new studios in Borehamwood and Waltham Cross.

In recent years, Ricky Gervais has chose to return to Hemel Hempstead to film three series of Netflix’s After Life, while the Old Town was recently transformed to be part of a World War Two drama from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Last year, it was revealed that Dacorum Borough Council had made £100,000 within six months from filming in Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted, and the council had employed an officer to work specifically on arranging new projects to capitalise on their success.

Hertsmere Borough Council also benefit from owning Elstree Studios, while Hollywood studio Sunset Studios have outlined plans to open a British base in Broxbourne. Warner Bros. also have their Leavesden studio near Watford, which expanded further last year.

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios - Credit: Archant

The borough council discussed the new plans during a meeting of the Executive on February 9 and were backed by the leader of the council, who said the whole town could benefit from the proposals.

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Executive member for leisure and culture, Councillor Richard Henry (Labour, St Nicholas) said the council has “aspirations to actively promote Stevenage as a destination for film, TV and documentary makers, which I believe will increase the awareness of Stevenage, as Britain’s first World War Two New Town and promote our cultural ambitions.”

He added: “It’s anticipated encouraging filming will raise the town’s profile, boost engagement and public interest in the local area and attract more screen tourism. We know that within the industry, there is a tendency for producers to return to successful locations and councils that enable them to look at locations favourably. 

“As we know Stevenage has a uniqueness in its architecture and landscape which is appealing to film production companies.”

A report prepared ahead of the meeting outlined a number of locations the council would centre their proposals on, including the open town square, and indoor market, the quieter streets of the Old town and green spaces including Fairlands Valley Park.

The council has also said high rise towers, estates and new bus interchange could all be signposted as potential locations.

However, the council has said it won’t be an open call for productions, and those which could be “harmful to the licence area’s reputation” may be rejected. The report added two projects in recent years have been turned down because the production involved violent behaviour and drug use.

Officers believe £25,000 a year could be raised from the new filming offer, which is based on a historical guideline of 25 projects, but this could rise significantly depending on which productions choose to film in the town.

Beyond larger productions, the council hopes local businesses and students will take advantage of the new process to film in the town.

A guideline list of prices suggest the council could receive £650 a day from small scale productions, and from £2,000 for large scale productions with more than 30 cast and crew members.

News coverage, charity filming and student filming will need to be approved but will not come with a cost.

Filming requests are currently dealt with by the council’s Marketing and Communications team, but in an effort to manage resources the new process will be managed by a contract-holder.

Leader of the council, Councillor Sharon Taylor said: “This is not just a straightforward financial issue, it’s about improving the perceptions and the destination of Stevenage for the film industry.

“We’re very lucky here in Hertfordshire to be the home of an enormous film, creative and television sector and if we don’t get our act together and benefit from that, we’d be missing a trick.

“We’ve got a huge opportunity there, and we should certainly take it. There are potentially lots of jobs for our young people in that industry and I think the council can benefit from it.

"It’s not just about the actual fees for filming, it’s the use of catering and leisure outfits, hotels, all that kind of thing, that can help so many of our businesses in the town.”