Business

New £24m Game of Thrones studio tour to create 200 jobs in Banbridge

A digitally rendered image of the entrance to the new Linen Mill Studios
Ryan McAleer

THE new Game of Thrones studio tour in Banbridge is expected to employ up to 200 people and provide a £400 million tourist spend boost for the north by 2030, a new report has revealed.

Linen Mill Studios, one of the key production sites for the global television phenomenon, is to reopen this autumn as a new tourism attraction in partnership with HBO.

The total investment in the project is expected to be around £23.7m.

Linen Mill Studios is owned by Northern Ireland group John Hogg and Company, which also owns Ulster Weavers. Originally a flax trading firm, John Hogg is now a major player in producing dyes and markers for the petroleum industry.

The legacy project on the Castlewellan Road was first announced in late 2018, but with planning applications now lodged, more detail has emerged on the scale of the development.

The development involves extending the existing studio buildings into a 110,000-square-foot interactive experience dedicated to Game of Thrones.

A large park and ride facility is to be built adjacent to the Boulevard retail complex in Banbridge for up to 350 vehicles in order to avoid visitors driving directly to the site, 3.5km east of town centre.

A detailed analysis into the potential socio-economic impact of the new tourism venture has revealed that it will operate 12 hours per day, seven days a week, and is expected to attract up to 600,000 visitors per year, around the same number that visited the Ulster Museum during 2018.

If opened as planned by the fourth quarter of 2020, it’s anticipated that the studio tour will be worth £396.2m in total tourist spending by 2030.

It’s projected that Northern Irish people will make up one-in-four of all visitors, with another third coming from across the border. The rest (41 per cent), are expected to be made up of international tourists.

If the tour achieves its 600,000 annual target, it will become the north’s third most visited tourist attraction, behind the Giant’s Causeway (1.04 million) and Titanic Belfast (815,000).

A total of 194 people are expected to be employed when the studio is running at full capacity.

Set along the River Bann, the Linen Mill Studios was once the base for the Ballievey Bleaching Company, which founded in the 1920s, became a key players in the story of Irish linen. By 1974, the mill was operated by Ulster Weavers, employing 410 people at its height.

The Ulster Weavers factory closed in 2011, with some buildings retained for storage until last year. Courier firm DPD and Banbridge Storage & Logistics Limited, part of the John Hogg Group, also used the site until early last year.

The Game of Thrones production moved in during 2011, building internal stages and two external ship sets.

The new tour will feature original sets, props and costumes used in the filming of the HBO series, which ended in May 2019.

The Winterfell great hall will form the centre piece of the tour, with visitors also able to partake in a number of digitally interactive activities.

A restaurant is also planned and a ‘back-lot’ café, designed to replicate the studio catering experience.

Planning permission to extend the existing buildings on the site was granted by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in April 2019.

The latest planning application relates to the development of the industrial buildings as a tourist attraction, formally changing the use of the studios into a Game of Thrones themed tour. It includes a ticketing area, along with retail and office space.

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