Liverpool’s Metro Mayor says City Region can become ‘Hollywood of the North’

The North-West can become ‘the Hollywood of the North’, according to Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.

Mr Rotheram, speaking at a summer party at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn for film and television production crews, also revealed that he sees Liverpool and the City Region developing a Screen Academy to address a skills shortage in the industry that can contribute to making Liverpool the UK’s biggest filming asset outside of London.

While The Heath is acknowledged as one of the UK’s most successful independently run business and technical parks, it is also renowned as one of the North of England’s leading locations for filming. Currently four major TV drama productions are recording at the site, owned by SOG Group, including BBC’s Sherwood and ITV’s The Tower.

Ryan Lewis, who heads SOG’s filming division, says The Heath benefits from being geographically located mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester. With representatives from the film offices of both cities and Creative England attending the event yesterday evening, Ryan said it “demonstrated there is a real buzz about collaborating and working closely together”.

L to R: Ryan Lewis, Steve Rotherham, Kevin Bell, Bobby Cochrane, Jonny Shelton.

SOG’s site was first used as a filming location 20 years ago for the iconic BBC sit-com ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ followed by popular police drama ‘Merseybeat’.  In recent years SOG played a key role in helping the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham secure a deal for the first film studio to be built in the capital for over 30 years in a regeneration programme, masterminded by SOG, at a former pharmaceutical site which has attracted over £2billion worth of investment. The studio will sit at the heart of a film and production village which will ultimately generate 3,500 jobs.

Ryan said he sees no reason why the template SOG created in Dagenham cannot be replicated in the North-West to make the region the most powerful base for filming outside of the capital. “I cannot see a reason why we can’t replicate something like that here as long as we all share the same vision, have common goals, and the determination to make it work. It is amazing what can be achieved between the public and private sectors when no one wants to take the credit.”  

He said SOG’s secret for success as a film location is its ‘can do attitude’ and its ability to provide the level of support production houses require.

He highlighted that Adrian Wootton, CEO of British Film Commission, says that filming contributes more to the UK economy than the oil and gas industry.

“The North-West is currently the fastest growing region for filming in the UK and with continued ambition it can only strengthen and reinforce its position as a leading player in the industry,”  said Ryan.

He added that the North-West needs a major filming village, designed not just by developers and architects but by those that work in the industry. “They know what is needed not just for today but for the future as this industry isn’t just growing it is changing as well. I would encourage them to add their thoughts and visions at every opportunity; their input will make such a difference and will help attract international investment.”

Mr Rotheram said it is important for the cities of Manchester and Liverpool to ‘work collaboratively’ to maximise opportunities within the film sector. He said his vision of a Liverpool Screen Academy would “encourage lots of young talented people to look at careers in filming to address the skills shortage and will assist schools to better understand the opportunities and career paths the filming/TV industry can offer our young people”

The Mayor said locations like The Heath were strengthening the City Region’s filming proposition. As well as having attractive locations, he wants to see post-production operations being developed in the region to grow the sector. Mr Rotheram added that hosting the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year had also put Liverpool on the global map in terms of “unbelievable production”.

“It was literally the top end of everything. Liverpool was in the European and global spotlight, and it has changed perceptions of what this place is about. And that was the real benefit of Europe, not just having the wonderful, barmy, colourful, spectacle of that musical event, it was to show people that there’s lots and lots of brilliant stuff that’s happening here and (they) have gone away and loved it.”

Mr Rotheram said that “the visitor economy in Liverpool has taken off like never before with 78 million people visiting the city – more than the entire population of the UK”.

“So, we’re changing perceptions and that means that we can use the brand of Liverpool to attract more and more events, more and more productions into Liverpool,” .