Excitement has been building in and around Bedford over the last 24 hours after a respected theme park website reported on evidence suggesting Universal Studios could be expanding its theme park empire into the UK, with Bedford Borough as the most likely location.
Orlando Park Stop has published financial records, details of land purchased, and further evidence that by 2030, the only Universal Studios theme park resort in Europe could be right on our doorstep in Kempston Hardwick.
Now, the Bedford Independent can exclusively reveal that Universal Studios has confirmed it has purchased land near Bedford, which it is exploring as a possible theme park site.
A spokesperson from Universal Destinations & Experiences told the Bedford Independent, “We recently acquired land in Bedford [Borough] 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.”
They said that no creative content of the park has yet been determined and stressed that “we are still very early in planning this potential project”.
The company confirmed that it is always on the lookout for new park locations around the world and with a large population, strong creative industries, thriving tourism and transportation infrastructure at the heart of Europe, the UK is an ideal destination.
Hollywood, Orlando, Beijing, Osaka, Singapore… and Bedford
The Universal Destinations & Experiences spokesperson told the Bedford Independent that Bedford’s connectivity to London and Europe was a factor in their decision to begin looking at the feasibility of a park in the area.
They said, “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.”
The site’s proximity to London, the Harry Potter Studios near Watford, and the cities of Oxford and Cambridge make Bedford the ideal location for anyone planning a tourist trip to the UK.
Additonal 240 acres purchased
Rumours which have now been confirmed to the Bedford Independent by Universal Destinations and Experiences – show that Universal Studios’ parent company, Comcast, purchased a construction company called Cloud Wing UK Limited in 2023.
This purchase brings a 240-acre parcel of land titled “Kempston Hardwick New Settlement” with it.
The land, which is close to public transport links to Bedford and, crucially, the M1 had already been suggested as a possible site for a business park, with several projects previously being put forward.
In total, the company is said to have acquired around 500 acres (or 200 hectares) of land in the area.
Theme park fans have speculated that the park’s design could be based on Universal Studios Beijing, which has more indoor attractions than its Florida counterpart, to help visitors avoid the wetter British weather.
The report also suggests the UK resort would be unique to the US parks so it did not “cannibalize the company’s overseas travel market.”
They add that this park may “debut with new attractions not found in Orlando” to attract visitors from other markets, as well as theme park fans in the UK.
However, the Universal Destinations and Experiences spokesperson said that no creative content had yet been confirmed.
Investment on this scale will have a significant impact on the local area.
Market research company, IBIS World reports that income in the UK amusement & theme park sector has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.1% over the past five years, and reached an estimated £972.7m in 2023.
Employment opportunities for the area would also be in the thousands. While it’s not known how many would be employed at Universal Studios, as a guide Alton Towers employs 2,500 people.
Visitors to the area would also bring in significant income using local transport and hotels. Harry Potter World has attracted 16 million visitors since it opened in 2012, with up to 6,000 visitors a day during peak times.
Theme park fan, James Block, told the Bedford Independent: “Even though it’s extremely early days, as a lifelong Bedfordshire resident and theme park fan, it would be amazing news for the area, a massive boost to the local economy, and make Bedford the place to be.
“People travel from all over the world to visit Universal Parks. Seeing Bedford listed alongside Hollywood, Orlando, Beijing, Osaka and Singapore is amazing.”
Update: This article was updated on 26 December 2023 at 15:38 to add additional details about the total area of land purchased by Comcast.