Universal Studios confirms UK theme park plan… can YOU guess where?

Universal Studios confirms plans for first UK theme park after scouts identified it as the best location in Europe… can YOU guess where?

  • Theme park giant buys land close to a major airport as it assesses its UK plans

Universal Studios says it is ‘exploring’ the possibility of opening its first ever UK theme park — in Bedford.

The entertainment colossus says it has purchased 480 acres of land at Kempston Hardwick that once housed a brickworks and is assessing the possibility of building what would be its sixth theme park and its first in Europe.

There are currently five Universal Studios parks: Hollywood and Orlando in the US, Osaka in Japan, Sentosa in Singapore and Beijing in China – with Bedford potentially set to join their ranks alongside a Texas park under construction.

Universal is believed to have taken an interest in the Bedfordshire county town because of its close proximity to London — 45 minutes by train— and the short driving distance to London Luton Airport, making it easily accessible to the world.

A spokesperson for the pop-culture juggernaut said it would be engaging with the local community before it makes any solid decision on whether to green-light the project – but local leaders are excited by the possibility.

Universal Studios in Florida – one of five theme parks currently operated by the pop-culture juggernaut across the globe

Bedford town centre (pictured) could soon be on the doorstep of the UK’s very own Universal theme park

Universal Studios in Singapore. There are also parks in Hollywood, Osaka and Beijing

This map, released by Universal, shows the land (in yellow) that has been purchased by the entertainment giant as it assesses the feasibility of the Bedford project

In its more than 100 years of producing movies, Universal has been responsible for some of the world’s best-loved flicks, such as Jurassic Park, E.T., Back To The Future and the Despicable Me series.

However, its theme parks also feature franchises produced by other studios, such as Harry Potter, Transformers and The Simpsons, which appear under licence.

Details of rides are a long way off – pending Universal deciding whether to proceed with the project or look elsewhere. 

READ MORE: Chessington World of Adventures named Britain’s No.1 theme park in awards that also declares Wicker Man at Alton Towers the best themed roller coaster 

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But if it was to be given the go-ahead, the park would be about 40 miles from The Making of Harry Potter studio tour, operated by rival Warner Brothers in Watford.

A Universal spokesperson said: ‘We recently acquired land in Bedford and are at the early stages of exploring its feasibility for a potential park and resort at this site.’

‘It will be many months before we are ready to make a decision to proceed and we look forward to engaging with all relevant stakeholders and the local community.’

Details of the UK plans were reported by Orlando ParkStop earlier this week. It found that a website for ‘Universal Studios Great Britain’ had been registered by Universal’s parent company, NBC Universal.

And Comcast, the US telecoms firm that controls NBC Universal, snapped up a company with links to the Bedford brickwork site in August. 

It is named as a ‘person with significant control (PWSC)’ of Cloud Wing UK Ltd on Companies House; Cloud Wing is itself named as a PWSC of Kempston Hardwick Developments, which owns the brickworks site, according to HM Land Registry.

The Stewartby brickworks were, at one time, the biggest in the world, with the village of Stewartby built for the sole purpose of housing its employees.

However, the site closed in 2008 and its chimneys have since been demolished after falling into a state of disrepair. 

The site of interest was later confirmed by Universal, which provided a map of the land it had acquired to local paper the Bedford Independent.

Tom Wootton, the mayor of Bedford Borough Council, may have dropped hints about the site’s future a week ago, quipping that a £950m road upgrade in the area would put Bedford at ‘the centre of the universe’.

On the Universal announcement, he told the BBC: ‘The suggestion of a major business investment is of course positive, nevertheless these are early days and much detailed work is required before any decisions are made.

‘We very much welcome and are excited by the interest from Universal and the immense potential for it to be transformative for the borough.

‘We’re committed to ensure that any plans align with the best interests of our residents.’

Theme park fan James Block told the Bedford Independent: ‘Even though it’s extremely early days, as a lifelong Bedfordshire resident and theme park fan, it would be amazing news for the area, a massive boost to the local economy, and make Bedford the place to be.

‘People travel from all over the world to visit Universal Parks. Seeing Bedford listed alongside Hollywood, Orlando, Beijing, Osaka and Singapore is amazing.’

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