The James Bond film franchise could be forced to move its base from the UK after more than 50 years, unless the greenlight is given for a dramatic increase in studio facilities in the space-starved movie industry, the head of Pinewood Shepperton has warned.
Pinewood Studios is the official home of the 007 spy franchise – of the 23 Bond films shot since Dr No debuted in 1962 only Moonraker and License to Kill have not been based there – and enjoys a close association with the Broccoli family that produces the films.
The 100-acre site in south Buckinghamshire is littered with reminders including the famous 007 stage, the location of the M16 bunker and tube disaster scene in Skyfall, a Goldfinger Avenue and a road named after late Bond producer Cubby Broccoli.
On Wednesday Pinewood will be told by the South Buckinghamshire District Council whether it has been granted planning permission for the £200m development of 100 acres of greenbelt land it owns.
The company said that the development, which would double the size of the complex over the next 10 years, is necessary if the UK film industry is to continue to compete with Hollywood and emerging markets as the base for blockbuster films and major TV productions.
"We're at capacity, the UK is at capacity, something has to give," said Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive of Pinewood. "If we as a sector don't respond to the growing demand then someone else will. [The producers of the Bond films] have to be financially responsible. If they get a better proposal elsewhere than the UK can mount then they have to look after their business as well."
Dunleavy added that with the UK government introducing tax relief for high-end TV productions – Pinewood is the third largest provider of facilities for television shows in the country – saying no to expansion is not an option.
"The kind of TV they are talking about is Band of Brothers and Game of Thrones and those are made in an almost identical way to a feature film," he said. "In that sense it is another reason why the UK needs to think quite a lot about capacity, both in terms of physical infrastructure and skills."
Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, warned that the strong bond between the studio and the film franchise cannot be taken for granted.
"Pinewood is the spiritual home of James Bond and the two franchises have enjoyed a long-standing relationship," he said. "Tradition, however, is not enough on its own. I am convinced of the need for Pinewood to keep on expanding to offer filmmakers the best facilities possible."
Dunleavy has faced years of resistance in attempting to push through plans for the ambitious, and controversial, expansion.
The original plan submitted in 2006 proposed creating 16 streetscapes – including a permanent Venice canal, Parisian square and brownstone New York apartments - accompanied by a residential development of up to 1,400 apartments and houses.
The housing element sparked huge local resistance, spawning a Stop Project Pinewood campaigning group. Communities minister Eric Pickles eventually blocked the original plan last January.
"What we failed to convince people about was the idea that [the streetscapes] should be linked with residential," Dunleavy said. "There is no residential in the new application. In that sense I think it is conceptually easier to understand. We hope the local planners will see our arguments."
He highlighted financial incentives including 3,000 new jobs ("that means quite a lot in today's economy") and a predicted £150m-a-year boost to the UK economy.
Dunleavy's plan, which has cost the company almost £8m from 2006 to mid-2011 without a spade breaking earth, involves developing greenbelt land and he has launched a charm offensive to win over local opposition.
"We took a long time to have consultations with local parties that are interested and take on board their views," he said. "Our argument is about creating jobs and capacity for an industry that wants to grow and hasn't got the ability to grow at the moment. The fact you can build on green belt with permission is lost in the nuance of [the opposition] argument."
South Buckinghamshire District Council is understood to have received more than 450 letters about the submission, with significantly more in support and fewer objecting than last time.
On Wednesday the council will deliver its verdict with three possible outcomes. It can greenlight the planning application, vote against it, or decide that it needs to be ruled on at a national government level.
There is already significant opposition in Buckinghamshire to the proposed HS2 high-speed train route, which would pass to the north of the Pinewood studios site and cut a swath through greenbelt land in the Chilterns.
Pinewood is in the constituency of Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield and the attorney-general.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010