Crumbling studios where Star Wars and The Crown were filmed needs at least £150million to secure their future. The roofs at some stages are not only past their useful lives but are “dangerous”, while asbestos remediation has recently taken place, and some walls have undergone “pinning” with just 10-15 more years left in them.
Owned by Hertsmere Borough Council, Elstree Studios needs a “minimum” £150-200million injection to “replace life-expired buildings and ensure its competitiveness beyond the 21st century”. A damning report by the authority sets out the council “cannot continue to invest” in the Borehamwood complex.
Instead, the new Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders in Hertsmere, who took over from the Conservatives at the May elections two months ago, could fork out £90,000 in consultancy fees to map out a “way forward”. They will debate this plan at a meeting on Wednesday, July 12.
Setting out a list of problems, the report reads: “It is important to note that the studios were built in the early 1900s with some of the later stages built between 1925-1930, which means most of the infrastructure is at least 100 years old and past its useful life.” In August 2022, workers replacing a stage door found asbestos.
Then, while asbestos remediation was taking place, Elstree Studio’s contractor discovered the roofs over stages 7, 8 and 9 “had not only lost their useful life but were in a dangerous state”. Some aerated concrete beams, first used in the 1960s and 1980s with a roughly 30-year lifespan, had already snapped, which warrants a roof replacement. Stage 8 was home to the BBC’s hit quiz show Pointless before asbestos was found last year.
“In summary, other than the brick walls, which have already undergone pinning in an effort to reinforce them, it begs the question on the feasibility of proceeding with this project or otherwise to demolish the stages altogether,” the report adds. The remaining life expectancy of the walls is “not expected to be more than another 10-15 years”, with the council waiting on a more detailed structural report.
On top of the building problems, Elstree Studios’ IT is “severely outdated and needs substantial and urgent upgrades”. Elstree Studios is wholly owned by Hertsmere Borough Council. It means that as a landlord, the authority is responsible for “certain repairs and replacements”.
It has to balance this with a “fiduciary duty to local taxpayers”. Doing nothing is not an option for the authority, according to council chiefs, and “depleting reserves … and a number of other commitments on the council’s finances” is one reason why the status quo has to end.
Hertsmere Borough Council must also “diversify its investments to mitigate financial risk to its local taxpayers in the event of a downturn in the film industry”, while £150-200m may be seen as a commercial investment in Westminster, which means Public Works Loan Board borrowing would not be an option. Alternatives to paying a consultant include finding a long-lease tenant, exploring redevelopment options, and attracting external investors.
Hertsmere Borough Council bought the studios from property firm Brent Walker in 1996, when it was in a “very dilapidated state”. Buying the studios, building the George Lucas stage in 1999 and repair works – including asbestos remediation – has cost the council £22m.
But the site has generated £28m for the public purse, and has a market value between £40m and £100m – “depending on its purpose, such as residential use”. Next week’s meeting will be held in public at Hertsmere Civic Offices, Borehamwood.