The film studios behind Wonder Woman 1984, House of the Dragon and Harry Potter is one step closer to expansion.

Amid fears expanding the Warner Bros Studios Leavesden would harm the green belt, Three Rivers District Council’s planning committee has approved the firm’s site “masterplan”.

The US film giant asked the council for permission to build new soundproof stage buildings, workshops and production offices which will support a rise in the demand for high-quality TV series.

At a meeting on Thursday, December 15, planning committee members voted to ask the government to give Warner Bros the final sign-off – something which the authority must do to satisfy national green belt rules, owing to the scale of the project.

Watford Observer: The existing Warner Bros site and the area where new development has received support from Three Rivers District Council's planning committee.The existing Warner Bros site and the area where new development has received support from Three Rivers District Council's planning committee. (Image: Warner Bros/Three Rivers District Council)

If the full masterplan goes ahead, Warner Bros hopes to create 1,625 full-time “high-wage, high-skill” jobs in the Watford area and add £85.7million to the local economy by 2027.

Emily Stillman, the studios’ senior vice president, told the committee her company must adapt to her industry’s changing needs.

She said: “There is now a huge demand for high-quality TV shows as well as film.

“This is a major change in our industry.”

Ms Stillman added the company would set aside an 8.3-hectare green space known as Lower Field, which the public could use.

Watford Observer: Proposed Warner Bros Studios Leavesden development from above.Proposed Warner Bros Studios Leavesden development from above. (Image: Warner Bros/ Three Rivers District Council)

“This is not just about the economy,” she said. “Leavesden must be a great place to work but it must also remain a great place to live.”

Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst (LD, Leavesden), speaking as a community advocate, said he welcomed plans for open green space, 13,213 square metres of solar panels on rooftops, a green canopy and a new roundabout which could ease congestion on surrounding roads – including the M25 Hunton Bridge spur.

He said: “The benefits we would get from this application far outweigh the negatives.”

But Tim Carroll, of the Gypsy Lane and Fernhills Residents’ Group, said the development does not meet the “high hurdle of very special circumstances”, the test which developers must pass if they are to build in the green belt.

He urged the committee to consider how the development would impact on the “openness” of the Gade Valley and said Three Rivers District Council must find a way to secure the Lower Field as green space “in perpetuity”.

Mr Carroll said: “Public green space has been promised to us in studio developments since 1997 but none has appeared.”

Watford Observer: How the proposed roundabout at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden could look. How the proposed roundabout at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden could look. (Image: Warner Bros/ Three Rivers District Council)

Council officers said they will try to prevent Warner Bros from building on the Lower Field through planning conditions.

Committee member Cllr Phil Williams (LD, Chorleywood South and Maple Cross) said: “I would say that without the field I would be against this application, but it looks like the developer has taken on board concerns here.

“It would be with a heavy heart that we give away a bit of green belt but I agree the benefits outweigh the negatives.”

The development site spans 51.78 hectares of the former Leavesden Airfield, next to the existing studios and The Making of Harry Potter tourist attraction.

Warner Bros’ masterplan features 11 new permanent “sound stages”, four office buildings, three new workshops, a new amenity building, a support lighting facility, a multi-storey car park with 2,500 spaces and a new roundabout to intercept site traffic arriving from the surrounding M25 and A41 roads.

Along with the Lower Field for the public, studio teams would be able to use a second area for filming.

The infrastructure investment of £250m will feature 186 new trees, 19,519 square metres of new woodland planting and a shuttle bus for local workers.

The government can choose whether it wants to rule on the planning application.

If it chooses to hand the case back to Three Rivers District Council to rule, committee members have agreed their staff should grant planning permission.

Around 10 per cent of the site falls in the Watford Borough Council area, where a decision is expected on or around January 12, 2023.