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Blockbuster Hollywood Theme Park Planned For Bedfordshire

Matt Crisp July 2, 2024

A branch of the Hollywood movie group Universal is planning to build a UK theme park in Bedfordshire that would be open all year round. Sky News reports that Universal Destinations & Experiences have unveiled plans for the theme park, which would be built on a 192 hectare site in Kempston Hardwick near Bedford.

The park would include themed areas based on highly popular films and video games such as Nintendo, Shrek and Harry Potter. There would also be a 500 bedroom hotel and a restaurant that would be open to the public without a theme park ticket, plus all the usual rides and attractions for families and coach hire parties.

It is predicted that the theme park will attract millions of visitors each year, and eventually generate £50bn for the UK economy. The construction process is forecast to take five to six years and would create 20,000 jobs, plus 8,000 permanent jobs once the site is open. 

It would be the largest theme park in Europe, with the option for a further 60 acres of expansion at the site of the former Kempston Hardwick brickworks, which closed in 2008. Currently, Europe’s largest theme park is Disneyland in Paris. Universal have already purchased 500 acres of the site and are seeking a special development order. 

This is a method of applying for planning permission that allows major developers to circumnavigate local authorities and apply directly to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. 

Page Thompson, Universal’s president in charge of new ventures, told Sky News: “I can tell you it’s going to be a world-class park with all the experiences that people will love based upon the most popular films, video games and stories that people have enjoyed for decades.” 

“We’ve spent the last decade looking all over Europe and the United Kingdom for locations, and we think this is the best location we’ve ever seen. Our phase one plans consist of a theme park, a 500-room hotel and a dining area that people can come to even if they don’t have a theme park ticket.”

“Over time, I would expect the number of hotels to grow. Our intention is that this park would be open 365 days a year, just like all of our other major theme parks. We have a whole series of special events, like our Halloween Horror Nights and carnival parties… and it just allows us to attract people throughout this time.”

However, there are some risks and challenges that Universal will need to overcome. The UK already has four of Europe’s largest theme parks, and three of them are located in the south of England: Chessington World of Adventures near London; Thorpe Park in Surrey, and Legoland in Windsor. The other, Alton Towers, is in the North Midlands.

Furthermore, there are already other popular attractions in the area, including the Warner Bros studio tour Harry Potter Experience near Watford, Whipsnade Zoo near Luton, and Woburn Safari Park just to the north. 

There are also concerns about traffic congestion on the M1, which is already prone to tailbacks and not currently able to cope with any more demand. It may be the case that new rail links and highway improvements will be needed to accommodate the predicted visitor numbers. 

Some commenters have also expressed surprise that Universal plans to keep the new theme park open all year round, given the unpredictable British weather. Alton Towers, which is the UK’s biggest theme park, closes from November to March, as do most large theme parks across the country and also in northern Europe.

The Universal theme park will have some serious competition on its hands if the plans do come to fruition, as the UK has an impressive portfolio of theme parks with some of the world’s biggest and fastest rides. 

For example, Alton Towers is home to The Smiler, the world’s first 14-loop rollercoaster, and TH13TEEN, a ride with the first ever vertical freefall drop. At Chessington World of Adventures, there’s the Croc Drop featuring a 25 metre plunge, plus Mandrill Mayhem, the world’s only Jumanji themed rollercoaster.

Meanwhile, Thorpe Park is home to Stealth, one of the world’s fastest roller coasters, and the infamous Saw, Nemesis Inferno, and Derren Brown’s Ghost Train.