This UK Borough May Soon Be Home To The Next Universal Studios Theme Park

Universal Studios is eyeing the borough of Bedford, England, as the site of a possible theme park and resort development. Comcast, the parent company of Universal, has already bought the land, while its subsidiary, NBCUniversal, has registered domain names hinting at plans for a Universal Studios Great Britain park. Company representatives have stressed that the project is only under consideration at this point, but if it comes to fruition, it would be Europe's first Universal Studios resort. Currently, Universal has two resorts in America and three in Asia.

A spokeswoman for Universal told BBC that Bedford's appeal lay in its "transportation connectivity to London and Europe with more than half of the U.K. population within two hours, including just 45 minutes outside of London." The company has also launched a public website for the Universal U.K. Project, showing the resort's would-be location between the Thameslink and Marston Vale train lines. It's near the village of Stewartby on an almost 500-acre site that once held the world's largest brickworks.

In a late-December 2023 letter to local residents, Universal's External Affairs representative, John McReynolds, emphasized that the company "is in the very early stages of exploring the possibility of a potential park and resort experience at this location." McReynolds acknowledged the land purchase but said, "We are only at the beginning of our feasibility study as part of our evaluation of potential sites. It may well therefore be many months before we decide whether to proceed with the project."

What shape the Universal U.K. Project could take

Until now, the closest thing to a Universal theme park experience in England has been The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter. In addition to costumes and sets from the "Harry Potter" movies (produced next door at the working Warner Bros. film studios), the tour includes Platform 9¾ and the original Hogwarts Express train. You can board the train, but you can't ride it between two different theme parks, like you can at Universal Orlando. You can, however, see the "real" Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station in London. Universal has replicated the Hogwarts Express in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at four of its five resorts worldwide.

Whether it would want to do that again in such close proximity to other competing Harry Potter attractions remains to be seen. It's only about an hour by car from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London to the potential site of the Universal U.K. Project in Bedford. The tour is mostly indoors, and there's been speculation that the U.K. Project could go a similar route with some of its attractions, as Universal Beijing has done. This would help it deal with England's rainy weather, which could pose a bigger operations challenge for Universal than the weather in Florida or sunny California does. Having exclusive new attractions, rather than just clones of existing ones at other Universal parks, would also help make Bedford a more unique draw.

A park and resort or destination and experience?

Rumors have swirled that Universal could look to other British-inspired film icons, like James Bond and "The Lord of the Rings," for theming in its possible new U.K. park. With the project in such early stages, however, it could wind up going a different direction entirely, depending on how Universal's "feasibility study" pans out. This has happened in recent years with other major theme park developments. Early reports in 2018 that Tokyo Disney Resort was developing a sky-themed park, for instance, instead gave way to a DisneySea expansion, set to open in June 2024.

In 2023, NBCUniversal's theme park division, formerly known as Universal Parks & Resorts, underwent a name change to Universal Destinations & Experiences. This new name reflects the company's expanded focus beyond traditional parks and resorts, like the ones it currently operates in Japan, China, Singapore, and the U.S.

Universal has already confirmed two new destinations and experiences in the works, in Las Vegas and the city of Frisco, Texas. Vegas will be home to Universal Horror Unleashed, a year-round entertainment experience meant to further capitalize on the popularity of the seasonal Halloween Horror Nights events. Frisco is where Universal Kids Resort, a theme park and hotel aimed at families with young children, is in development. If, for whatever reason, Universal decides not to pursue a full-on theme park and resort in England, it's possible the Bedford site could become a more niche "destination" offering like these.