An ambitious plan to turn Hartlepool into a film and television production hub has been announced.
The Hartlepool Mail can reveal that a former Hartlepool Borough Council depot is being transformed into the biggest film studio outside of London.
The town is aiming to build on its links to the television and film world.
It has already seen big hits such as Vera and George Gently filmed there, as well as Ridley Scott who studied in the town.
Now ambitious plans have been announced to make Hartlepool a renowned centre for film production and a nine-month pilot scheme has started.
A council depot in Lynn Street is designated to become the studio and an existing building is being transformed as well as given a new roof.
It will be the largest film studio outside of LondonChristopher Akers-Belcher
It is all part of a team-up by the authority with Cleveland College of Art and Design to promote creative industries, and hopefully keep the best young minds in the town.
Chief executive Gill Alexander said: “We are working with the college on how we attract and promote Hartlepool as a place for film production which obviously has jobs around it in terms of crews and technical support.
“We have already had a number of films with Hartlepool used as a base with Vera and George Gently, but we have also got interest from other production companies.
“We are also working with the college on how we can invest in that area, and how we can work with them to really get Hartlepool on the map as a place to come in the new, emerging, creative and cultural industries.”
She described the studio as a “really unique selling point for Hartlepool and part of the transformation of Church Street and Church Square as a real hub of activity.”
Ms Alexander added: “We are working with them to attract investment into that as well.”
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said the studio building was so large it would be “the largest film studio outside of London.
“They have already secured some TV contracts to do some filming on site and the whole area that used to be our depot. Initially they are going to use that site but then it will be covered if it is successful.”
He said the scheme in conjunction with the college was on a nine-month pilot and the council was also keen to “have some element of visitor centre to the film studios just to attract that footfall even more.”
Another plan was to clear the former Focus site and have it as empty land so that any potential investor would have somewhere to move into in the area. It would also “in effect just tidy the area up,” said Coun Akers-Belcher.
Ms Alexander said the council would be launching a new three-year strategy and five-year capital investment plan in the spring of this year.
“We will see a lot of the first stage of this being rolled out in the next 18 months.”
In terms of the film studio, there is a “pilot operating over the next nine months and we are hoping to get that to completion within the next two years, but we will start to see some activity pretty soon on the process.”
The authority has already revealed its plans for statues to mark its links to Ridley Scott.
Ridley, who made Boy & Bicycle in 1965 in Hartlepool, and went on to make cinema classics such as Alien and Bladerunner, used the central theme of a boy on a bicycle again in 1970 in the Hovis bread advert.
The council has submitted a £600,000 bid to the Coastal Community Fund and part of that money would be used to fund the statues, which would be erected on the seafront at Seaton Carew and near the interchange in Church Square,