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Film studio plans revealed for former Bentwaters air base

PUBLISHED: 14:10 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:10 02 May 2017

The Bentwaters Park site - the former air base could become home to film studios. Picture: MIKE PAGE

The Bentwaters Park site - the former air base could become home to film studios. Picture: MIKE PAGE

Archant

Suffolk could be set to become a major player in the movie industry - with a project in the pipeline to create film studios at the former Bentwaters air base.

The Bentwaters Air Display Show was a popular fixture during the USAF years and was revived in 2010. Picture: ARCHANTThe Bentwaters Air Display Show was a popular fixture during the USAF years and was revived in 2010. Picture: ARCHANT

Proposals have been drawn up to use 12 acres of the old USAF site to create a complex of buildings which would provide everything needed by companies making films, TV, adverts, pop videos and many other productions.

It would fit well with the drive to make Suffolk one of the top locations in the country for filming, building on the work already being done by the county council to attract film and TV crews to the area.

Suffolk Coastal council has received details of the film studios plan from Bentwaters Parks, owners of the 939-acre site.

The project would see the construction of a main film studio building providing around 34,000 sq ft of space, and the conversion of seven former military buildings for sound recording, production, workshops, editing suite, ancillary offices, changing rooms, cafeteria and rest rooms.

Bentwaters Cold War Museum open day. Picture: GREGG BROWNBentwaters Cold War Museum open day. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Most of the filming would be done indoors – and star spotters would be unlikely to see their film idols because the site will be screened by a five metre high landscaped bund.

The site – to the south of the runway – is currently a large flat grassed area with areas of hardstanding and roads, plus buildings, used for storage.

Planning consultant Steven Bainbridge, of Evolution Town Planning, on behalf of Bentwaters Parks Ltd, said the main studio building will be “very similar” to many of the large former aircraft hangars at the airfield.

He said: “The Bentwaters film studios will be used by film companies who will rent the facility for a period of time. It will be similar to facilities available for use at locations such as Pinewood Studios and others.

Crews from BBC TV drama The Child in Time starring Benedict Cumberbatch were filming in Shingle Street last week. Picture: BBC/PA WIRECrews from BBC TV drama The Child in Time starring Benedict Cumberbatch were filming in Shingle Street last week. Picture: BBC/PA WIRE

“Erection of film sets and filming will be undertaken in the proposed studio building. Existing buildings are likely to be used as production offices, meeting rooms, changing rooms, etc. From their former military use they are already subdivided into numerous rooms which functioned as offices and one includes a cafeteria/kitchen.”

Another is already kitted out to a high spec for sound recording and editing.

Evolution has had talks with officers at Suffolk Coastal about the proposals and is currently preparing a planning application.

Mackenzie Crook on the Framlingham set of Detectorists. Picture: Phil MorleyMackenzie Crook on the Framlingham set of Detectorists. Picture: Phil Morley

From the dark days of the Second World War to the uncertainty of the Cold War, Bentwaters played a key role in the nation’s defences.

Construction of the base, close to Rendlesham, began in 1942 and it was operational two years later as an RAF fighter command centre.

Six years after the war ended, in 1951, it became home to the United States Air Force’s 81st Tactical Fighter Wing playing a crucial role as part of the NATO air arm with aircraft carrying out fighter-interceptor to fighter-bomber operations, equipped with both conventional and nuclear weapons.

In 1993, the MoD made the shock announcement that the USAF was leaving and the base would close. Initial suggestions that it could become a commercial civilian airport failed to take off, though business flights and other small-scale aviation use still take place.

Detectorists starring Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook is to be filmed in Framlingham again later this year. Picture: MATT TILLERDetectorists starring Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook is to be filmed in Framlingham again later this year. Picture: MATT TILLER

Several businesses have made their home on the site and its former USAF housing is now in general use.

Suffolk is attracting increasing numbers of film crews to use its towns, villages and beautiful landscapes for productions.

Last year the county council awarded a contract to London-based Film Fixer to work with companies wanting to film in Suffolk – a move council bosses say will help boost tourism, arts and leisure industries.

Lovejoy was one of the first major series to be filmed in Suffolk - the scene here was shot at the One Bull in Bury St EdmundsLovejoy was one of the first major series to be filmed in Suffolk - the scene here was shot at the One Bull in Bury St Edmunds

Between 20 and 50 days of filming for films, TV and adverts takes place in the county a year, but the new partnership aims to increase that to 300 days – with an estimated income from a single day of filming between £17,000 and £32,000.

BBC’s Springwatch was based at RSPB Minsmere, while other shows such as Detectorists and Lovejoy were filmed in the county. Last week a crew was filming The Child in Time, starring, Benedict Cumberbatch, at Shingle Street. The hit Fast and Furious franchise, Don’t Tell the Bride and Driving Wars are among many shows to have used Bentwaters.

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