Hollywood stardust is being sprinkled across the Home Counties. With Britain's film industry booming, famous-name studios on both sides of the Atlantic are launching ambitious redevelopment plans for UK sites, offering more filming facilities but incorporating new homes - sometimes among the movie sets.
Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, famous for its Bond films, has an eccentric plan to integrate apartments and houses behind "fake" façades - exact replicas - of 17 worldwide locations such as the Venice Grand Canal and Piccadilly Circus.
While the fronts of these properties will be fantasy film sets, the residents will go about their daily lives behind the scenes where the gardens, parking spaces and main entrances to their homes will be. It is early days in the planning stages and the locals aren't happy about this green belt "incursion" but it's on the drawing board, and worth watching.
Not just Disneyland
Project Pinewood aims to be much more than a cross between Disneyland and Poundbury. Redevelopment of the 105-acre studio site 20 miles from central London would establish a live-work community and a world-leading centre of technical and creative excellence for the film industry. About 400 of the 1,400 homes proposed would be "affordable", earmarked for students attending a training academy and employees of the 320 production and service companies based at Pinewood.
Legendary Ealing Studios, famous for the classic comedies made there in the Forties and Fifties, is also undergoing a revival, with Downton Abbey and St Trinian's being star providers. Redevelopment will create 270,000sq ft more space, including production suites and rehearsal rooms. An influx of creatives to this part of west London is causing property ripples nearby.
The Manhattan Loft Corporation, which builds apartments in creative enclaves such as Clerkenwell, is turning the west London space into a digital media village, a rival to Soho. Ealing is only 25 minutes on the Tube to Soho. Such investment provides a boost to the local economy and property market as highly paid actors, directors and executives move to the areas wanting impressive homes close to big studios.
The Dutch Gable in west Ealing has a historic shopfront that has been retained as part of a development of nine apartments. The scheme dovetails nicely with the surrounding Victorian houses, making for a charming streetscape. Launching soon, call Q Developments on 020 7223 1200.
Elstree, Teddington and Shepperton are also affected. Elstree-Borehamwood railway station is the first stop beyond the postal districts of north-west London - 20 minutes out of St Pancras on the Thameslink service.
The expanding Elstree complex ensures a busy and varied flow of travellers and "reverse" commuters who head back to the big smoke after the working day. EastEnders is made there. During its Fifties and Sixties heyday, Elstree was the English version of Hollywood (the home of hits such as The Dam Busters and Lolita). The glamour and affluence shaped the local property market, and to this day it attracts celebrity homebuyers. Simon Cowell grew up there - his father was an Elstree estate agent who sold homes to legends such as Stanley Kubrick.
Yet this little corner of green belt Hertfordshire also offers good-value family homes within the catchment of several well-regarded schools, golf courses and riding stables - all in all, a big draw for London emigrés.
The stars of Elstree
The prosperous parish of Arkley, a 10-minute drive from Elstree, has a main avenue sprinkled with villas on big plots and small gated developments such as
Chenies Place, a scheme of six traditional-looking detached houses notable for their smart specification.
Ranging up to 4,000 sq ft, each house has well-planned family accommodation and comes with a tastefully landscaped garden plus a package of extras. Prices from £1.995 million. Call Real Estates on 020 8445 3132.
Wall Hall, bordering the medieval village of Aldenham, near Radlett, is a prestigious new address for this part of Hertfordshire. The 55-acre parkland estate once owned by the American banker JP Morgan has been redeveloped into a scheme of 125 homes, ranging from quaint cottages to grand mansion apartments and trophy villas. Prices from £575,000. Call 020 8445 6387.
This month American cinema giant Warner Bros snapped up the 170-acre Leavesden Studios, just north of Watford, where the Harry Potter franchise is filmed. Warner plans to invest £100 million and open a permanent Harry Potter museum there, creating 300 more jobs. Leavesden, a former Rolls-Royce factory and aerodrome, is surrounded by rolling Hertfordshire countryside and has quick commuter connections to the capital.
In nearby Stanmore, a so-called "super-suburb", two classic new-build 4,000sq ft houses by developer Octagon, are priced at £2.5 million and £3.4 million. Call 020 8416 3325.
Balls Park near Hertford is a private 63-acre private estate with a listed Jacobean mansion and 19th-century stables being converted into 40 apartments. Films such as The Golden Compass and television dramas including Foyle's War and Bleak House were made there. Prices from £237,500. Call developer City and Country on 01992 551777.
Essendon Hall, near Hatfield, sits in rural splendour, ringed by a country park and golf course. A listed 17th-century mansion and courtyard buildings have been restored and converted to provide 29 properties - grand apartments and mews houses set in 14 acres of formal gardens.
Apartments for sale in the mansion include a 3,000sq ft triplex with two terraces. Another apartment has a bathroom in the tower. Prices from £699,999 to £1.35 million. Call 01707 663502.