Comcast drawing up planning application for 476 acre site following “overwhelmingly positive” consultation with locals

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios in Florida, one of the most visited theme parks in the world

US theme park chain Universal Studios is working up a planning application to build the biggest theme park in Europe on a brownfield site in Bedfordshire.

Universal Destinations and Experiences (UDE), the company behind Universal Studios Florida and four other theme parks around the world, purchased 476 acres of brownfield land just to the south of Bedford last year with an option to add another 65 acres.

The firm, a subsidiary of US media giant and Sky owner Comcast, has now said it is drawing up a planning submission to build its first park in Europe with the scheme expected to have a construction value of several billion pounds.

The 541-acre Universal Studios Florida is among the most visited theme parks in the world and was the first of a chain which now includes parks in Los Angeles, Japan, China and Singapore.

The firm’s UK branch is intended to be a direct competitor to and would be larger than Disneyland Paris, currently the most visited tourist attraction in Europe.

Page Thompson, head of new ventures at UDE, said Comcast hopes to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the Bedfordshire scheme by the end of this year.

Thompson told the Financial Times that the company had long viewed Europe as an opportunity to build “one of the greatest theme parks in the world”.

The land earmarked for the scheme consists of a former brickworks and fields close to a series of large lakes.

It has been chosen for its flat topography and proximity to several transport links including the M1 motorway, Luton airport, a railway station and possible future connection to the proposed East West rail project.

UDE said the project would include “significant” infrastructure improvements, including major road and rail upgrades.

Universal Studios the Hulk

The Hulk rollercoaster at Universal Studios Florida

The firm completed an initial round of consultation with locals last month which it said resulted in “overwhelmingly positive responses” from the 6,000 people surveyed, with 92% expressing support for the plans.

“We are now carefully considering the feedback we received during the engagement period and preparing our planning submission,” it said in an update following the consultation.

UDE is hoping to receive planning approval directly by the government through a special development order, which would be granted following consideration by the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities.

Lucy Frazer, the secretary of state at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is acting as the sponsor for the project within government and UDE is currently engaged in talks with officials around possible financial incentives to get the scheme started.

The site, located to the east of Kempston Hardwick train station, has been designated for development by Bedford borough council and is not classified as green belt land.

UDE said the park could provide as many as 28,000 jobs and would add more than £14bn of tax revenue to government coffers over its first 20 years of operation.

Possible attractions in the park are yet to be revealed but other Universal Studios branches are known for large areas themed around film and video game franchises including Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Super Mario.

But UDE said each of its parks is unique and it was exploring ways to “reflect and celebrate” local history into its UK branch if the project proceeds.