Planning approval for Game of Thrones studio tour a 'game changer' for Banbridge
A proposed Game of Thrones studio tour in Banbridge has secured planning permission, potentially creating up to 200 jobs.
Linen Mill Studios was a key production site for the global television phenomenon between 2011 and 2018.
The location is set to be transformed into a new tourism venture in partnership with the owners, John Hogg and Company, and US television network HBO.
The development, approved by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council yesterday evening, involves extending the existing studio buildings into a 110,000-square-foot interactive experience dedicated to Game of Thrones.
The tour will feature original sets, props and costumes used in the filming of the fantasy series, which ended in May 2019.
The Winterfell great hall will form the centre piece of the tour, with visitors also able to enjoy digitally interactive activities.
A restaurant is also planned and a ‘back-lot’ café, designed to replicate the studio catering experience.
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 the town centre.
The backers of the project hope it will attract up to 600,000 visitors a year, which would make it the north’s third biggest tourism attraction behind the Giant’s Causeway (1.04 million) and Titanic Belfast (815,000).
At those levels, it’s anticipated the venture could be worth almost £400m in total tourist spending by 2030.
But the analysis, carried out before the coronavirus pandemic, had factored in 40 per cent of visitors coming from overseas.
It’s unclear whether an upsurge in staycation breaks would make up for the expected shortfall in the initial years.
A total of 194 people are expected to be employed when the studio is running at full capacity.
Set along the River Bann, Linen Mill Studios was once the base for the Ballievey Bleaching Company, which was founded in the 1920s and became a key player in the story of Irish linen.
By 1974 the mill was operated by Ulster Weavers, employing 410 people at its height.
The factory closed in 2011, with the Game of Thrones production moving in the same year, building internal stages and two external ship sets.
Alliance councillor Brian Pope, who chair’s the ABC council’s economic development and regeneration committee, described the planned attraction as “a game-changer” for the local tourism industry.
“I want to pay tribute to the whole team at Linen Mill Studios for their vision, aspiration and determination to take this significant project forward during these difficult economic times.
“I welcome the investment and potential large numbers of visitors to the area, the creation of local jobs and opportunities for our local economy.”
Belfast law firm Carson McDowell acted for Linen Mill Studios in the planning application .
Partner Gary McGhee said: “We are delighted to have helped Linen Mill Studios secure planning permission for this landmark £24m attraction, which will provide a major boost to the local economy in Banbridge and the wider Northern Ireland tourism industry.
"Game of Thrones is a global brand with a worldwide fanbase who are prepared to travel to Northern Ireland in great numbers and this new, one of a kind attraction will provide further reason for them to visit.”