11:36AM, Thursday 20 May 2021
The film set would have been located in Sunninghill Park (site area pinpointed by the grey marker). Photo from Google Maps.
Councillors have rejected plans to build a film set near Windsor for the acclaimed Netflix period drama, Bridgerton.
At a Royal Borough Development Management Panel yesterday (Wednesday) evening - which was being held in-person at Maidenhead's Holiday Inn - seven members voted in favour of planning officers' recommendations to refuse plans for the set.
The streaming company wanted to film the show on green space in Sunninghill Park, which is owned by the Crown Estate, with the set in use for a period of five years.
The proposal involved a set build that recreates a London Square, which does not involve actual buildings but scaffolding with frontages.
Two councillors and several public speakers, including council leader Councillor Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams), backed the proposals, arguing that economic benefits would outweigh harm to the greenbelt.
But opposition members argued that this was not enough to justify building on green land.
Planning officers had recommended the plans, submitted by a Mr Hood, for refusal due to concerns over wildlife and the adverse effects of building on the countryside.
Public speaker Patrick Griffin, who was representing residents living near the proposal site and also the Berkshire branch of The Countryside Charity, said that he saw 'little benefit' in the plans.
"In spatial and visual terms, the proposal would cause substantial harm to the openness of the greenbelt," he said. "Sunninghill Park is precious and we would like to keep it that way.
"We see little benefit to the surrounding areas; we would expect the crew to commute predominately from London, contributing little to the local economy."
Mr Griffin added that the film set would also adversely affect land and water habitats nearby.
"Mammals, birds, insects and fish should have freedom of movement within the area without constraints from scaffolding, 360 vehicle movements and other human intervention," he said.
Ward councillor Sayonara Luxton (Con, Sunningdale and Cheapside), who does not sit on the panel, disagreed and told members that this was a chance to put the Royal Borough on the 'world map'.
"We are a borough with a rich history, and have an opportunity here to put the borough on the world map as a great tourist attraction," former mayor Cllr Luxton said.
"We should be proud that large organisations like Netflix want to film Bridgerton [here]."
Echoing his Conservative colleague's sentiments, Windsor and Maidenhead council leader Cllr Johnson said that he was giving his 'unequivocal' support to the application.
"This proposal will bring real, tangible and most needed economic benefits to the area," he said.
"As we emerge from the worst of the COVID crisis, this presents us with a golden opportunity to not only capitalise on our unique position, but also reinforce the message that the Royal Borough is firmly open to investment opportunities.
"The clear economic benefits more than outweigh any potential harm to the greenbelt; benefits which do constitute very special circumstances."
But Cllr Johnson's speech did not sway the majority of planning panel members, with Liberal Democrat councillor Josh Reynolds (Furze Platt) saying that 'ecology does not just grow back'.
"As a council one of the things we have been talking about quite a lot is ecology, and I do not see how this conforms to what we have been talking about," he said.
"Are we really saying that the council getting a bit of cash as a result of this development might constitute for very special circumstances to allow something for five years in the borough that will cause harm to our land?"
Cllr Reynolds also asked questions about the logistics of large vehicles travelling down small tracks and roads.
Panel member Cllr Leo Walters (Con, Bray) said: "There is no doubt about it that [this] would cause substantial damage to the greenbelt."
Cllr Neil Knowles (OWRA, Old Windsor), another voting member, questioned who would be looking after the set while crew members are not there.
Planning officers responded by saying that they did not have 'any details' from the applicant with regards to this, nor on any security measures that would potentially be implemented to protect the set.
In the vote, seven councillors voted for planning officer recommendations to refuse the film set.
Cllr John Bowden (Con, Eton and Castle) and Cllr Shamsul Shelim (Con, Eton and Castle) voted against.