A DECISION on whether film crews can continue to use Bourne Woods near Farnham as a filming location has provoked thorny debate.
Bourne Wood has been used for filming ever since Ridley Scott’s Gladiator shot its opening battle scene there in 1999.
Russell Crowe returned to the woodland a decade later to film Robin Hood, and the land has appeared in many other blockbusters too, including Wonder Woman, Avengers: Age of Ultron, War Horse and Children of Men.
But Waverley Borough Council’s western planning committee was uneasy about making permission to film there permanent and deferred its decision on Tuesday last week.
“Reversing alarms, explosions and pyrotechnics have been a real nuisance in the past,” said Bourne Residents’ Association spokesman Tony Patterson, who argued any permission should be reviewed after five years.
Dan Hunt, councillor for the Farnham Weybourne and Badshot Lea ward, said: “We have global, Oscar-winning films that completely stand the test of time that will be viewed by generations, being filmed in the local area.
“If I take my kids to the woods and I tell them that’s where Harry Potter was filmed, their eyes are going to light up – and who knows what inspiration that gives to young people in the area, to believe they can go and be a part of that world.
“Personally I don’t think there’s a price you can put on that.”
Farnham Town Council leader, and Firgrove councillor, John Neale said it was a great opportunity for Farnham’s University for the Creative Arts film students to see what goes on in their chosen industry.
Cllr Carole Cockburn, who represents the Farnham Bourne ward, said: “No-one’s against the filming, we’ve supported it for years.
“Just because we don’t want people kept awake at 1am, it doesn’t mean we’re anti-filming.”
The application says residents of Clumps Road would be protected from noise pollution by a 50-metre buffer zone.
Filming activities would usually be limited to 6am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 8am to 1pm on Sundays.
But night filming up to 11pm would be allowed, with local neighbours notified in advance.
Cllr Hunt added: “It’s inevitable, through the nature of what they’re doing, that sometimes it may need to be at night, so we’ve got to take that into consideration if we want huge studios that are doing films worth hundreds of millions of dollars to come and choose the woods.”
Hindhead councillor Peter Isherwood said: “Builders aren’t allowed to work on a Sunday in Waverley, therefore why do we allow film crews?
“I would say no working on Saturday or Sunday so we local people can enjoy Bourne Woods to the full.”
The public would continue to have full access to the public car park and 20 hectares of woodland where filming is not taking place.
Bourne Wood is Forestry England’s main filming site in the south east and earns the woodland’s custodian hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees.
Bruce Rothnie, south district forest management director, said the funds were reinvested into “improving public access and creating rich habitats”.
He said they monitored compliance and took action quickly if any concerns arose.
Permission would exclude any crew from a fenced-off sand lizard habitat and neither Surrey Wildlife Trust nor the Surrey Hills AONB officer raised an objection.
Farnham Castle councillor George Hesse said: “The use of Bourne Wood for filming, driving in vehicles – some heavy – building sets for up to six months, unlimited night filming, light towers, smoke-making burners, thunder flashes, helicopters, people charging around probably slaughtering each other, doesn’t accord with the protection of endangered species, 38 potential breeding species of birds, sand lizards and other mammals.
“In fact, it flies in the face of the much-flaunted protection of the Surrey and Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area – really this is absolute Alice in Wonderland stuff.”
He said they had not seen any evidence of the suggested £1.2million benefit to the local area over two years.
“I really am very against this whole filming in the woods; I might be in a club of one, I don’t really care,” he added.
Cllr Sally Dickson, who represents Farnham Hale and Heath End, said there was “nothing more exciting than coming across a film set on your walk”.
“If a 12-year-old sees a film set in a field tomorrow, there is every chance they’ll be able to find a really good job in our creative industries, which are very strongly represented locally,” she said.
“It’s also brought fame and notoriety in the best possible way to our small community and it does make Farnham a really exciting place to live.”
After playing committee members a clip from Gladiator, she added: “That piece of film has been repeated millions of times on the internet. People have it on T-shirts, and it was filmed here, with us – we contributed to that.
“At a time when television and creativity and films give so much pleasure to so many people in these difficult times, I just think that inspiration element is really important.”
Officers had recommended granting the application, which would allow filming activity for a maximum of six months in any year and no more than eight consecutive months.
The council received 19 letters of objection including one from Frensham Parish Council, and two letters of support, one from Creative England.