Empty Leith Docks warehouse to become '˜world class' film and TV studio

A former wave power plant on Edinburgh's waterfront is set to be transformed into a long-awaited national film and TV studio complex.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 7th December 2018, 7:46 am
Updated Friday, 7th December 2018, 7:55 am
Proposed Bath Road Studios, Leith Docks
Proposed Bath Road Studios, Leith Docks

It is hoped the vast Pelamis warehouse in Leith’s docklands will become a “world-class” production facility suitable for the biggest blockbuster movies and high-quality drama series by the end of next year.

A worldwide hunt to find an operator of the complex, located in part of the docks sealed off to the public, is being launched today after the Scottish Government agreed to underwrite the conversion of the building.

However it will not be known how the studio will cost to get off the ground or how much subsidy will be needed until the end of the three-month tender process.

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The Leith Docks project was signed off by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop in July, shortly after British Film Institute executive Isabel Davis was appointed to lead the new Scotland’s new government-funded screen agency.

A blueprint for the 160,000 sq ft Pelamis building envisages five sound stages up to 100 ft tall, along workshops and offices. Further phases could be created in other parts of the docks depending on demand.

Proposed Bath Road Studios, Leith Docks

Ms Davis said: “The enormous potential of Bath Road was demonstrated when it hosted Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Its scale, accessibility, proximity to crew and central Edinburgh, and its ability to be rapidly adapted, make it a highly attractive proposition and one that could swiftly provide a home in Scotland for large-scale productions.

“The site presents a fantastic opportunity to increase Scotland’s screen infrastructure, and capitalise on the unprecedented production boom.”

The Pelamis building was used last year as a base for the Avengers: Infinity War blockbuster, with the six weeks of filming said to be worth £10 million to the city’s economy.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Wong in a scene from "Avengers: Infinity War." (Marvel Studios via AP)

Dock operators Forth Ports - who hosted filming on Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting in the docks - have agreed to lease the building to the Scottish Government’s new screen agency to finally get the project off the ground after years of debate about a dearth of studio space.

The only permanent facility, in Cumbernauld, was converted in 2013 for the Sony-Starz series Outlander and is still used to make the time travel series. The show has helped boost the value of the screen sector from £33 million to £95 million since then. Last year’s tally included filming on Avengers: Infinity War, Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots, as well as the drama series The Cry and The Victim.

Securing the studio development is expected to provide a huge boost to efforts to attract major productions to Edinburgh. BBC is currently screening the drama series Clique, which was shot entirely on location in the city. Filming has just wrapped on an adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos.

City Council leader Adam McVey said: “This is an exciting deal which opens doors for a new film studio in Scotland.

“Edinburgh’s links to the film industry are already strong – thanks to our city’s film-friendly approach and annual international film festival – and Leith is awash with the kind of creative and tech talent the film industry needs.

“Such a facility would undoubtedly provide hundreds of new jobs, which would of course rise when filming takes place, and bring great economic benefits to the whole area.”

The Leith warehouse complex, on Bath Road, was built in 2000 at a cost of around £30 million for engineering firm VA Tech, but closed with the loss of 225 jobs four years later. Talks between Forth Ports, the Scottish Government and the National Galleries of Scotland over its potential conversion into a new gallery complex came to nothing before it was converted into a home for wave turbine firm Pelamis, but was closed down after it went into administration in 2014.

Stuart Wallace, chief operating officer of Forth Ports, said: “Our support for Scottish industry does not stop at the quayside and we are thrilled that Screen Scotland has chosen the Port of Leith as the location to expand Scotland’s studio provision. This building has been popular with the creative industry recently with Avengers: Infinity War using Bath Road as a studio space.

“As Scotland’s capital port and a major economic driver for Edinburgh with the capability to handle in excess of 1million tonnes of cargo over the quayside annually, we’re no strangers to hosting big and ambitious projects.”

Ms Hyslop said: “The Scottish Government is focused on strengthening our screen sector and creating the conditions to support continued growth across production, development, talent and skills.

“We have significantly increased our funding for screen this year and supported the launch of Screen Scotland, which brings together public sector support for the industry.

“We welcome the launch of this tender process, which aims to enhance Scotland’s screen infrastructure and give private sector operators an opportunity to invest in Scotland’s growing screen sector.”