Nicola Sturgeon urged to intervene over film studio impasse

The Pentland Studios project is earmarked for green belt land in Midlothian.

The Pentland Studios project is earmarked for green belt land in Midlothian.

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Almost 250 film and television producers, directors and leading behind-the-scenes workers in Scotland have urged Nicola Sturgeon to intervene to ensure a controversial studio complex on the outskirts of Edinburgh goes ahead.

Leading figures who have worked on Outlander, Star Wars Trainspotting 2, The BFG, Whisky Galore and Sunset Song have warned the First Minister that Scotland risks lagging further behind the rest of the UK if the Pentland Studios project is rejected.

They say the lack of a studio facility means “very little” is able to be filmed over the winter months due to poor weather and limited daylight.

They are also warning that Scotland’s “highly-skilled” freelance workforce is finding it increasingly difficult to make a permanent career in their home country and are being forced to either move away or spend long periods away from home.

Plans to create a studio complex on green belt land in Midlothian have been stalled amid claims the privately-financed project is totally unsuited for the site. If given the go-ahead by ministers it would become Scotland’s first purpose-built facility for major productions.

Promised facilities include six “sound stages” up to 70 ft tall where film and TV productions would be made, rehearsal facilities, workshops, a film academy, a hotel and a hub for the creative industries.

The letter to Ms Sturgeon, compiled by the Association of Film and Television Producers Scotland, has also been sent to culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, education secretary Angela Constance and local government minister Kevin Stewart.

Among the signatories are Whisky Galore producer Alan Wands, Michael Wilson, production manager on Outlander, Tommy Gormley, first assistant director on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and location managers David Taylor and Miglet Crichton, whose credits include Whisky Galore, Sunset Song and Under The Skin.

The letter states: “The screen sector in Scotland is failing badly and the public sector is failing its screen sector. Our share of the current UK production activity for feature films is currently around three per cent of the national total and we receive a smaller percentage of the BBC licence fee.

“Every week there is a ‘good news story’ from other parts of the UK: new studios, more production activity, more deals being struck and increased spend figures and employment as production activity remains at a record high.

“Meanwhile the industry in Scotland falls even further behind. There has been a good amount of production activity this summer, including high-profile features such as Trainspotting 2 and Churchill, along with a number of TV dramas.

“This is, of course, very welcome and goes a small way to counter-balance the unproductive months of December to April every year when very little is filmed in Scotland because of reduced daylight, winter weather and the lack of studio space.

“What is urgently needed is a facility that allows for year-round activity, which can be heated and cooled with maximum efficiency, and can house a number of productions simultaneously, both incoming and indigenous.”

PSL, the developers behind the £230 million Pentland Studios project, which would be built on a 106-acre next to an existing retail park at Straiton, mounted an appeal to the Scottish Government after failing to win the backing of Midlothian Council.

The local authority had raised concerns that the project would cause unacceptable disruption to local residents, threaten the expansion of nearby developments and blight the local landscape.

Jim O’Donnell, development director of development for PSL said: “We are very pleased to have completed this stage of the planning application process, and look forward to both the reporter’s recommendation and the ministers’ decision on the film studio project in due course."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "We have made clear our determination to deliver permanent film studio infrastructure so that our screen industry continues to strengthen and grow.

"We have already affirmed emphatically that we believe that Scotland can sustain more than one permanent studio which is why we continue to welcome approaches from the private sector.

"Film and TV producers spent a record £45.8 million on location in Scotland in 2014 showing a fast growing appetite for major productions to base themselves in Scotland and we expect the figures for 2015 to be just as healthy.

"In relation to the Pentland Studios proposals, all those who have an interest have had an opportunity to put their case to the reporter so it would be inappropriate for ministers to offer any comment on the application."