With domains registered and land already secured, Universal Destinations & Experiences have confirmed that plans are in the pipeline for a theme park and resort in Bedford, England – Universal Studios Great Britain. Here we round-up all the details revealed so far, with Attraction Source ready to bring you the latest news and information.
Following the first revelation of evidence of a Universal Studios Great Britain project by Theme Park Stop, in a fantastic video and article, Universal themselves confirmed their plans in a statement to the local newspaper, the Bedford Independent, on 19th December 2023:
“We recently acquired land in Bedford and are at the early stages of exploring its feasibility for a potential park and resort at this site. It will be many months before we are ready to make a decision to proceed and we look forward to engaging with all relevant stakeholders and the local community”
“We support Bedford’s vision of becoming a prosperous place to live, work and visit and we take a proactive approach to partnering with local communities and stakeholders, like Bedford Borough Council, when pursuing potential projects.”
Following this, Universal published a website for the project featuring initial information on the current status of the project, along with some FAQs and contact details.
About Universal Studios
Universal Destinations & Experiences represents the theme park division of NBCUniversal, itself a subsidiary of the Comcast Corporation (Comcast). The division was rebranded from Universal Parks & Resorts in early 2023 to reflect the planned diversification of experiences offered and the business’ global expansion plans, of which it now seems Universal Studios Great Britain will be part.
For those based in the UK, it is likely to be Universal Orlando Resort of which they are most familiar. Consisting of Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and the upcoming Universal Epic Universe (due to open in 2025), it has been a popular holiday destination amongst UK families and thrillseekers alike since first opening in 1990. Nonetheless, it was Universal Studios Hollywood that was the company’s original theme park, developing from the studio tours offered of the working sets situated at the same location dating back to as early as 1915. The 2000s subsequently brought further international expansion for the company with the opening of Universal Studios Japan in 2001, Universal Studios Singapore in 2011 and Universal Beijing Resort in 2021.
In advance of the aforementioned rebrand, at the start of 2023 Universal announced the first of two new concept attractions. The first was a family-focused theme park for Texas, revealed in December 2023 as Universal Kids Resort, to open no earlier than 2026. The second was Universal Horror Unleashed, a year-round horror experience located in Las Vegas, building on the highly-regarded seasonal Halloween Horror Nights product offered at its theme parks.
The project so far
In December 2023, Universal confirmed the acquisition of 480 acres of land corresponding to an expansive brownfield site south-west of Bedford, England, and released a diagram outlining the land acquired, together with the surrounding transport links.
At the time of writing in December 2023, public land registry records list KHD as the owner of two titles, aligning with the land north-west of Manor Road.
While the public records do not yet list SC Collection as owner of any land, it is noted that SC Bedford Ltd is the owner of a significant amount of land in the immediate vicinity of that owned by KHD. With SC Bedford owned by Cloud Wing Investment Co. Ltd, the British Virgin Islands resident shareholder of Cloud Wing UK Ltd prior to its acquisition by Comcast, it seems that ownership of the required land south-east of Manor Road has been transferred to Comcast (with updates to the land registry’s records presumably still being processed).
Check out the below drone flyover video of sections of both the north and south areas of land acquired from Theme Park Fan James Block!
As first reported by Theme Park Stop, in September 2023 the .com and .co.uk domains for both ‘universalstudiosgreatbritain’ and ‘universalgreatbritain’ were registered by NBCUniversal Media LLC, the same registrant as other Universal parks’ website domains around the world. Alongside supporting the existence of a UK-based project, this is what indicates that it is intended for the development to open under the name Universal Studios Great Britain.
The protracted planning process for The London Resort, culminating in the planning application’s withdrawal in March 2022, understandably remains fresh in the minds of all UK theme park enthusiasts. Plagued by several delays, local opposition and legal challenges, of course the concern is that Universal Studios Great Britain would run into the same difficulties and therefore suffer the same disappointing fate.
However, one of the central differences, which is a cause for greater optimism, is the fact that such a significant amount of land has already been acquired by Comcast. Whilst London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) had purchased some areas of land on the Swanscombe Peninsula, much was due to be obtained only upon planning consent being obtained, which would then be used as the basis on which the raise the requisite funds from third party investors.
Furthermore, Universal Studios Great Britain will also benefit from being backed by NBCUniversal, and by extension Comcast. Whilst it is possible that Universal could seek additional investment from external partners for the project (as seen in Singapore and Beijing), it will nonetheless still benefit from Comcast’s significant financial resources.
Unlike LRCH, Universal also have substantial direct experience of developing, constructing and operating major theme park destinations, which can only be a further cause for confidence.
It’s too early to know at this stage and Universal themselves have made it clear that no creative content for the theme park has yet been decided upon. However, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a theme park too similar to what can be found in Orlando, as ultimately Universal will not want to cannibalise Brits heading there on vacation!
With all of the existing parks being 365 or near to operation, we would expect to see a lot more indoor attractions at Universal Studios Great Britain, like what can be found at Universal Beijing Resort, to ensure visiting in all weathers is still appealing.
Ally! and TheMainStreetNews on X (formerly Twitter) shared what appears to be very early concept art for the project. Although it features some recognisable existing and upcoming attractions from Universal’s theme parks, namely clones of The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Starfall Racers, this is no guarantee that these rides would feature in the final proposal, given the stage the project is currently at.
Clearly there remains a long road ahead with navigating through the tough UK planning process, before then progressing onto construction which will no doubt take several years – Theme Park Stop report a rumoured timeline that would see Universal Studios Great Britain open by 2030.
As explained in a letter to local residents in December 2023, Universal assert that they are still yet to make a decision as to whether to proceed with the project. To inform this decision, Universal are expected to engage in public consultations within the surrounding region.
Assuming that these confirm the feasibility of the project, the submission of a full planning application would follow – it is not yet clear whether this would be a local application submitted to Bedford Borough Council or if Universal would seek Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project status.
Only upon obtaining planning approval and commencing construction would Universal be expected to confirm the project as going ahead.