Westmeath County Council is due to vote on Monday on whether to grant planning permission for what would be Ireland’s biggest film studio, Hammerlake Studios, which could potentially create 1,000 jobs.
Councilors will have to vote 75 per cent in favor of a zoning change for the first phase of construction to begin on the 25-acre Lough Sheever Corporate Park site in Mullingar.
Planning for the international studio received initial approval from the council’s planning department last July.
The application site is currently unzoned and therefore subject to a material breach of the County Westmeath Development Plan for 2021-2027.
When completed, the campus will have 460,000 square feet of studio space and would comfortably be Ireland’s largest film and television studio, eclipsing Troy Studios (350,000 square feet) in Limerick and Ardmore Studios (130,000 square feet) in Wicklow.
The studio’s goal is to attract major television and film projects from around the world. The group behind the plan includes senior executives who have held positions at Disney and Universal Pictures. They believe the studio will bring around €50m a year to the Mullingar economy.
Fianna Fáil local councilor Ken Glynn said he believed the zoning change would be approved. “How could you not support this studio? It’s fantastic. For years Mullingar yearned for something like this and we have it here, we’re going to grab it with both hands,” he said. “I’m very supportive of Hammerlake Studios, I haven’t heard anything negative from my constituents and I still hope there will be broad support in the vote.”
The first phase of the project will include four studios or “sound stages” suitable for large-scale film and television production, an administration building, workshops, data technology centers, editing rooms, food, fitness and other amenities.
Construction is expected to last 12 months and film production operations will start from the first quarter of 2024. Some 350 production jobs and 300 construction jobs will be created during the first phase.
The second phase, which will be submitted for planning approval in the summer of 2023, will see seven additional studios added to the campus.
Hammerlake estimates that a minimum of 1,000 production jobs will be created when phase two operations fully start in 2025.
More than 300 people turned out for a Hammerlake Studios career information evening in Mullingar last week, hosted by its chief operating officer, Tom Dowling.
Our aim is to reach 20-30% of all studio production staff from the wider Mullingar region when Hammerlake Studios opens in 2024
— Tom Dowling, Director of Operations
He said viewing habits have changed in recent years, leading to more career opportunities in the film industry.
“We have seen an explosion of film studio development in Ireland in recent years. This is due to a change in the way movies or programs can be viewed,” he said. “We still have cinemas and TVs, but you can also use your phone or tablet. A family of five could watch five different shows simultaneously in the same house.
“This has driven the need for more content, therefore, we need more movie studio campuses to produce this content and there is a greater demand for skills in the industry than ever before,” said Mr. Dowling. “We are aiming to have 20-30% of all studio production staff coming from the wider Mullingar region when Hammerlake Studios opens in 2024.”
The studio works with Screen Training Ireland (STI) and the Longford Westmeath Education Training Board to respond to job applications, through local training and development.
STI training co-ordinator Emer McAvin said people in the Midlands would have plenty of opportunities to upskill or change careers thanks to the new studio.
“There are over 125 different positions in the industry and many different skills are needed across all departments. From art, carpentry, crafts to construction, it’s a fascinating and really exciting industry to work in,” she said. “That’s what we aim to support at Screen Ireland: learning on the job, bringing new entrants into the industry and integrating people into these different roles.”
Mr Dowling said the studio would be one of the most sustainable in the world.
“By the end of 2025, our studio campus will be competing with the best in the UK and Europe. The size of the studios will allow us to cater for the biggest feature films and TV series produced anywhere in the world,” he said. “Hammerlake Studios is committed to being the most sustainable and greenest film studio in Europe. In the years to come, all companies will have to move away from fossil fuels.
“We have a clear advantage over existing studio campuses, even those built in the last decade will need to undergo costly renovations to reduce their energy costs.
“Our carbon emissions will be minimized through a highly efficient electric power strategy powered by onsite and purchased renewable electricity; 25% of all our energy needs will be generated by photovoltaic panels located on the roofs.
“The rest will be purchased from green energy providers. Our rainwater harvesting system will save thousands of liters of water per year.
“Sustainability will extend to all campus operations, from charging stations for electric cars and vans to a comprehensive waste management plan aimed at reducing waste by separating and recycling more materials,” he said. he declares.