Studios where Ariana Grande filmed the Wicked musical are now covered by special, flexible planning rules.

Hertsmere Borough Council has agreed to let Sky Studios Elstree build sets without going through the usual planning process at a meeting last Wednesday, February 28.

Cross-party councillors voted to adopt two development consent orders (LDOs) which cover Sky Studios Elstree and Panattoni Park Borehamwood, which Sky leases.

Wicked: Part One, starring singer Ariana Grande, was the first film to be shot at the new site and will debut this autumn.

The EastEnders production team has had similar planning powers for the Walford set at the nearby BBC Elstree Centre since 2020.

Councillors did not debate the orders at the meeting because the “guillotine” had fallen, which meant they had run out of time for discussion and decisions could only be voted upon.

A meeting report read: “If no LDOs are adopted, the submission of formal planning permission would be required every time new productions and production companies use the site as their operational requirements change frequently and vary from one to the other.

Watford Observer: The 2024 version of Wicked was filmed at the new state-of-the-art Sky Studios Elstree complex in Hertfordshire.The 2024 version of Wicked was filmed at the new state-of-the-art Sky Studios Elstree complex in Hertfordshire. (Image: Universal Pictures)

“This reduces the sites’ usability in a highly competitive industry, puts constraints on attracting productions as new temporary structures will need to be planned and scheduled far in advance of filming.

“It also has resource implications for the council given the disproportionate amount of officer time which needs to be allocated to what are typically routine or straightforward development proposals.”

Sky Studios Elstree may only use the LDOs “to support and facilitate filming and television production”.

A list of permitted activities includes designing, building, decorating, storing and striking film sets, welfare and catering for crew, hair and makeup, and post-production.

The orders set out that structures must not exceed a height of 15 metres above ground level, except for hoarding and fencing which has a five-metre limit.

The industry spent £1.36billion producing feature films in the UK throughout 2023, according to the British Film Institute, with an estimated spend of £2.87bn on high-end TV production.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Wonka starring Timothée Chalamet – produced in Hertfordshire – was among Britain’s most successful films at the box office last year.

The Wizard of Oz prequel directed by Jon M. Chu, features “Yes, And?” singer Ariana Grande as Glinda The Good Witch, and Chewing Gum star Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba – the Wicked Witch of the West.

A Sky Studios Elstree spokesperson previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The current process for setting up temporary structures means that Sky Studios must seek temporary planning permission for any temporary structures, for example, the current catering marquee or portacabins.

“Having LDOs in place simply means that many of these temporary structures, which would typically be expected to be granted planning permission, will not go through the planning process each time, freeing up planning officers time and allowing the studio site to better serve productions without administrative delays.”

Hertsmere Borough Council is yet to rule on separate plans to expand the Sky Studios Elstree site.

The company plans a northern extension between Borehamwood’s Rowley Lane and the A1, with 10 sound stages and a forecasted £2bn additional production investment into the UK’s creative economy over the first five years of operation.

A decision is due by May 3, 2024.