Thursday 27 October 2016

Vikings studio plans €90m expansion and visitor centre in bid for Wicklow TV and film skills cluster

John Reynolds

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

Hit TV series ‘Vikings’ is just one of the many shows filmed in Ashford Studios, Co Wicklow
Hit TV series ‘Vikings’ is just one of the many shows filmed in Ashford Studios, Co Wicklow
Joe O'Connell, owner of Ashford Studios

Ashford Studios in Co Wicklow, where hit TV series Vikings is made, has finalised plans for a €90m expansion, including four new film studios of 40,000 sq ft each, a TV studio, offices, support space and visitor centre in a bid to underpin the development of a TV and film skills cluster in the county and create at least 2,500 jobs there.

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The project amounts to 716,000 sq ft of space in 12 new buildings, which would enable it to cater for three or four productions at once.

Owner Joe O'Connell declined to put a date on when construction would begin or when it would be completed, adding that this would be addressed once planning permission is received.

O'Connell is prepared to fund the plans himself if necessary, he confirmed. He has income from a successful manufacturing business in China called Universal Innovations - whose customers include a global retail giant - and a separate packaging business, but declined to go into specifics on financing the plans, or whether he's seeking a grant from the Government towards the expansion.

O'Connell used his own money to build the existing €25m development, comprising 150,000 sq ft including three studios offering 60,000 sq ft of filming space.

His expansion plan further pits Ashford as a growing rival to Ardmore Studios in Bray and Ardmore's spin-off, Troy Studios (which is based in the old Dell factory in Limerick and leased from Limerick County Council by Ardmore's key figures - Siun Ni Raghallaigh, Ossie Kilkenny and John Kelleher).

Asked whether there is a risk that Ireland could end up with too much film-studio space, O'Connell said: "Amazon, Netflix and all the networks all need space for their growing TV and film production work. Other countries are fighting to do the same as us, including Northern Ireland and our neighbours, so there's always that competition.

"There is a risk involved, but I'm more confident about this than I was with the first phase. We've got to remain competitive, but the success of Vikings - which will film its fifth season here this summer - proves we can do that.

"Studios want purpose-built, state-of-the-art spaces, and this is what we're trying to give them. If this second phase is successful, we have space to add nine more studios here."

This could result in a further 2,500 jobs being created. Last year, Wicklow County Council made film studios exempt from development contributions towards infrastructure such as roads. Its councillors are also seeking an extension of the Section 481 tax credit scheme to 2025 and a raising of its project cap to €100m.

The audio-visual content production sector is worth €550m a year to the State, employing over 6,000 people directly. Penny Dreadful, filmed at Ardmore, and Vikings were worth more than €70m to Wicklow's economy in recent years.

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