Universal Studios Great Britain — Master Plans for UK Theme Park & Resort

After breaking the news on where Comcast was thinking of building their next Universal Studios theme park, the company quickly confirmed our reporting, admitting to acquiring around 480 acres of land in Bedfordshire, England.

Now, months later, they’ve released documents showing master plans for how this property may be built out, including the scale of a possible theme park, construction timetable, and transportation details. Let’s dig into those plans and more in today’s news update. See the video version of this story below for additional visuals.

Back in December, just a day after our initial report on documents showing the acquisition of land within the U.K., a spokesperson from Universal Destinations & Experiences confirmed the story, speaking with the Bedford Independent.

They said “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.”

Location of potential development in yellow, Graphics: Universal Destinations & Experiences

The company released a map image along with their statement, (seen above,) also first published in the Bedford Independent. This official map shows the now confirmed 476 acres of land that Comcast owns, and its relation to nearby roadways.

A few days later the company launched a website, universalukproject.co.uk, to reach out to members of the local community and keep them informed of this prospective project.

Current look at official community website, universalukproject.co.uk

Now, several months later, Universal has updated this website with much more information. They say they have been working on feasibility for the last few months and are ready to share more information with local communities.

Public events have been scheduled in the upcoming weeks, and an online survey is available to collect local feedback.

The updated red line boundary of the site

The updated website includes a newer version of the map showing an updated boundary of the potential development, (seen above,) including additional sections of land to the east and west of the main property which may be utilized for transportation improvements.

The updated website includes a Frequently Asked Questions section, which explains that this site in particular was selected because “it has the size and flat topography that is important for a large-scale theme park resort.”

This phrasing seems to confirm our rumored report that this site is being considered for a full-size theme park, and not just a smaller park, like Universal Kids being built in Texas in the U.S.A..

The site was also chosen, of course, due to its connections to the rest of the U.K..

Connections from the site to the rest of the U.K.

Most intriguing of the updates however, can be found in a new 16-page PDF available for download on the site. This detailed proposal includes a possible master plan for how their land could be utilized, including the size and placement of the main theme park areas.

In these preliminary plans the property is split into different zones, (seen below). The “Core Zone” is where the main theme park areas could be, leaving the “Lake Zone” for future use. There are also Gateway Zones to the west and east, which could feature rail stations and transportation hubs.

Planning document showing land split into zones

Master Plans graphics that are included in the proposal PDF show how these zones could be utilized in more detail, with both Phase 1 and full build out iterations represented.

The proposed Phase 1 Master Plan, (seen below,) shows a flat parking lot at the very south end of the property, shown as CP-S in the plan.

Phase 1 preliminary plan for land, subject to changes

Shown in the center of the Core Zone, in a yellow color and marked as HT / RDE is what the document is calling the Hotel and Retail, Dining, & Entertainment area.

There have been rumors for a 500-room hotel and small CityWalk area featuring four original restaurants attached to this project, and this proposed master plan seems to back up those concepts.

Closer view of Core Zone, featuring theme park areas

The largest part of the Core Zone is made up by the theme park and theme park support areas, marked as TP / TP-S. This would create a new theme park about the size of Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Moving to the prospective long-term master plan, (seen below,) the flat parking lot has been relabeled to allow for expansion of the theme park areas. This could be possible with the addition of parking garages, opening up more land for theme park expansion later on. The document states that there aren’t any current plans to build structured parking, but if needed in the future it would be no taller than 40 meters.

Preliminary full build-out plan

As for the theme park itself, Universal says that “it is too early in the process to know the possibilities of featured attractions and experiences,” but that if they proceed with the project they will confirm these at a later stage.

Check out our first story on this topic for our thoughts on what we may expect for the new park, including some of the initial rumored properties, but stay tuned as these rumors evolve and change over time!

Comparison of Lake Zone from Phase 1 on left to full build out on right

North of the main theme park areas, within the Lake Zone, the phase 1 plan shows most of this area as Temporary Construction, shown as TMP on the plan. The light green area along the lake is listed as Restoration Area, “which would focus on preserving, improving, and celebrating the natural environment.”

Looking at the same Lake Zone areas within the longer-term master plan, what was originally listed as Temporary Construction is now shown as Mixed Use. Of course that could mean anything, from hotels and resorts to shopping, or even smaller theme park offerings.

Perhaps we could see smaller park projects like the Universal Kids park coming to Texas, or Universal Horror Unleashed year-round haunt attraction in Las Vegas, be utilized in this northern section of their property. Other options could include a water park like Volcano Bay—or something new entirely. It’s likely even Universal is still unsure on how to proceed with this northern area at this time.

This proposal includes a landscape perimeter around most of the property. It includes some visual examples, saying “We beautifully landscape our theme parks and resorts and would provide an attractive landscape perimeter. In addition to creating significant green areas, the landscape perimeter reduces the visual impact of the resort and creates separation from the surrounding areas.”

When it comes to transportation, Universal predicts that up to 40% of visitors to the resort would arrive by rail. 35% would drive or be driven. With the rest arriving by bus, taxi, and other methods of transport. The document includes breakdowns of where they would travel from and when the roads would be busiest.

Universal has told community leaders they expect the resort to attract a minimum of 8.5 million visitors per year. To help accommodate this large influx of new visitors, Universal would help with infrastructure upgrades, some of which have already been proposed for the surrounding area, but others that would be added specifically to serve access to the new resort.

Traffic graph from information packet

Most notably of the upgrades would be two railway stations: a new one on the main line on the Wixams side of the property, and another on the west side near the future resort’s main transportation hub, which would replace the existing Stewartby and Kempston-Hardwick stations. The proposed plans show this transportation hub on the west side of the property leading to the entrance of the hotel and possible CityWalk area.

In addition to upgrades and expansions of existing roads, new roads would be added, including dedicated slip roads leading from the A421, which would accommodate around 85% of the resort’s traffic.

Proposed transportation upgrades including rail stations and additional roadways

By routing most of the incoming vehicles to the dual carriageway on the west side of the resort, it will keep traffic away from the residential roads that run through communities like Wixams and Stewartby.

In case there was any doubt about the seriousness of Universal’s proposal for a new theme park and resort, the downloadable document includes a plan for phased construction access that has been devised to minimize traffic impact during every phase of hypothetical construction.

This phased construction traffic plan lists date-specific milestones, each with corresponding graphics in the document. The first phase would begin in 2025, but be completed by the second quarter of 2027, which the graphic says would be the start of “Facility Construction.”

Construction access via the slip roads would be available by the third quarter of 2028. The rail stations would be built by the end of 2029. And access to the interior roads for phase 1 would be completed by the end of 2029 as well.

Recent photo of site with utility flag visible, Photo: @leavesonthelawn

Universal says that “without having a final design the theme park and resort, including the rides and attractions,” they do not know how long construction would take, “but expect it would be around five to six years.”

This possible construction timeline aligns with our initial rumor that they were targeting a 2030 opening.

Excavators just arrived to site this week, Photo: @USGBUpdates

While actual construction has obviously not yet begun around the site, some preparations have been made during the feasibility study phase. These preparations include minor land clearing, new concrete barriers added, and utility flag markers placed in the ground.

Excavators and other equipment have just started to show up at the site in recent days as well.

Page of the public document sharing types of experiences

Specific details were shared regarding self-imposed height limitations for the possible resort, with Universal stating that most elements would typically range in height from 20 to 30 meters, “while a few may rise to a higher level to create visual interest and orientation within the theme park and resort.”

It goes on to say “the maximum height of any component would be 115m.” For those of us not as familiar with the metric system, that would put the tallest possible structures at 377 feet!

Universal Parks and Resorts around the world

This document includes examples of their resorts and offerings around the world, touches on how the company has a positive track record of partnering closely with local communities, and explains the care and attention given to considerations like wildlife and local ecology, water resources, air quality, historic environment, noise and light, and waste management.

Reaction from local residents, community leaders, and even the government seems to be mostly positive. In fact, in February Transport Secretary Mark Harper said “the Government will want to do what we can to make sure that this exciting proposal comes to fruition.”

Mayor of Bedford visits site with Universal team, Photo by Owen Billcliffe via Bedford Independent

The mayor of Bedford, Tom Wooton, seems to be completely on board. After visiting the site with the Universal Destinations & Experiences team last month, he said of the project: “After my conversations with Universal…I believe it can provide jobs and exciting career and business opportunities for Bedford Borough residents for generations to come.”

Despite all of the positive news it is important to remember that the Universal U.K. project, which is rumored to be named “Universal Studios Great Britain,” is still technically not greenlit. Universal has not yet committed to building a theme park, and is still considering their options.

Aerial view of property, Photo: The DIP (Desert Island Parks Podcast)

Local residents only have until Friday, May 3rd, 2024 to make their voice heard. Community leaders have been told that Universal Destinations & Experiences will make their final decision on whether or not to officially approve the project in June. Until then, we’re going to continue to hold out hope for this exciting project’s future prospects, and keep our fingers crossed it can stay on target for that 2030 opening.

That’s all for now, but be sure subscribe to our news feed or our YouTube Channel, as we’re just getting started with our coverage of Universal Studios Great Britain. Check out the video version of this story for additional visual elements.

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