I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue for debate. Most people will agree with me that County Wicklow is the headquarters of the film industry in Ireland. For more than 40 years, Ardmore Studios in Bray was the Lone Ranger in the provision of studio facilities. In more recent times, larger studios have been opened in Ashford by Ashford Studios, which was set up by the O'Connell family. The film production company headed up by Morgan O'Sullivan has brought many productions to this country. At the moment we have "Penny Dreadful" being filmed in Bray and "Vikings" in Ashford.
The Action Plan for Jobs includes several initiatives to promote the film industry. One of these is the proposal to set up an expert review group to examine what measures are necessary to assist in the provision of additional studio space. A recent report by Grant Thornton highlights the need for funding for such infrastructure. A particular problem for the industry in Ireland is that film studios are classified under class 4, section 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, which means a fee of €3.60 per square metre is payable. This is proving prohibitive to the provision of this vital infrastructure.
In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled recently, I was told there are no plans to amend the planning fees at this time. To clarify, that is not what I asked. My question was whether film studios would be allocated a new class under the regulations. In other words, the specific class under which studios are currently categorised would not need to change, but it should no longer apply to them. As it stands, the applicable fee for large-scale studios has proven to constitute an inordinately high cost.
The second issue I wish to highlight is that when it comes to development contribution schemes, film studios are treated in the same way as other commercial premises on the scale, say, of an Ikea store. However, such a facility is really a totally different ball game, because it has footfall all year around and who knows how many cash registers in operation at all times. A film studio, on the other hand, might only be used for three months of the year at high intensity. It may well be part of an overall package which includes location shoots. One of the reasons Wicklow is so popular as a location for shoots is that it is less than an hour from the airport and has the backdrop of mountain and valley, including Glendalough. The Market Square in Rathdrum has been used in films about Michael Collins and in a number of advertisements because there are four different aspects to it. My in-laws own the post office there and at one stage it was being repainted three times a year for different productions. That gives a flavour of the potential which is there.
Studios are a vital element of our film industry and I am asking that they be recognised as such. I can short-circuit some of the expert review group's findings by predicting that what I am proposing here will be one of its recommendations. It is very pertinent that the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, is here to respond to this matter. He has visited the studios in Ashford and is well aware of the issues. In his former role as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which included responsibility for the film industry, he acquired a good appreciation of the requirements of the sector. I look forward to his response.