John West, a campaigner for local jobs in the media, has sent an open letter to Andrew Round – Planning and Development Manager, Birmingham City Council.
Dear Andrew Round;
I await a reply to my letter to Waheed Nazir concerning the Big City Plan and film and TV studios, or rather the lack of any.
There is concern that the “airbrushing out” of the Midlands on film and TV will result in the city becoming like Detroit which lost a quarter of its inner city population causing large areas of urban dereliction.
Attached is a picture of the new studios that have been built there. Also attached is a picture of the only remaining large studios complex in the Birmingham, the ATV Studios which you are planning to demolish. What sort of statement does this make about the city’s commitment to film and TV production?
Is it any wonder that the BBC is planning to leave?
Why were the film industry professionals not consulted before someone decided that studios were “surplus to requirements”? Creative Networks say that the City Council never consult the right people in the relevant industries but hire in “experts” who crib their “facts” from old documents that never represented the true situation. The Producers Forum says that we need studios here; only the defunct Screen WM and BBC management claim that studios are not needed. (Past and present BBC Drama Department staff in Birmingham flatly contradict this.)
I have been told that the new film industry hub will be in Digbeth, which has no sound stages, no scenery workshops, narrow roads, no parking for large numbers of wagons or even enough parking for those that work already there and a noise intrusion problem. How can you expect the film industry to create all the jobs planned when you are destroying the last of the infrastructure that is left in the city? The Big City Plan is notable for the complete absence of sound stages or any film infrastructure. Where will all the film and art graduates be working? Do all the film and TV people in the region have to move to London or Salford to obtain work? Should they not be working in the region producing wealth and a positive image for your city? Would you plan a car plant with offices but no production line?
Pixar and Aardman make suburb films with computers but the majority of the productions are done with live action and for this you need sound stages, so that you can film efficiently in a controlled environment. You might imagine that “Last of the Summer Wine” was done on location but all the interiors were originally filmed at Ealing Studios (where the latest Midland film “Dancing at the Edge” is based.)
I have a meeting with Timothy Huxtable on Friday; it would be useful to know how you plan for the screen industries to survive with no place to make the productions. BBC “Midlands Today” is broadcast from Nottingham as the BBC now has no TV studios in Birmingham… Can Birmingham remain a Second City for much longer?
Please see attached shot of Salford Quays which has the new BBC offices and seven sound stages (Who said that they were not needed these days?) The empty area by the War Museum is the site for the new “Coronation Street” set and studios. (ITV said that Media City prices were too high so they are building their own facilities…)
- John is a member of The British Film Design Guild and also of Quakers in Business