Fears over nationwide ripple effect from greenbelt studio decision

Environmental campaigners say communities across the country should be fearful after the Scottish Government overturned the advice of its own reporter and approved a £250 million film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 4th April 2017, 9:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:06 pm
The Pentland Studios developers hope to be open for business by the end of 2018.

Environmental campaigners say communities across the country should be fearful after the Scottish Government overturned the advice of its own reporter and approved a £250 million film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Activists who have spent two years opposing the Pentland Studios scheme. which is earmarked for part of Midtlothian’s green belt, say they are “devastated” after ministers rejected a recommendation to reject the project.

The government’s own report on the Pentland Studios project said the studio would also cause “significant adverse effects on the character of the local landscape and on the visual amenity of those who live, work and travel nearby.”

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The Protect Damhead’s Greenbelt campaign say it threatens to force out a tenant farmer whose family has been working on land at Straiton for more than a century.

The green light for the project, against the recommendation of reporter David Bullya, has echoes of the Scottish Government’s intervention to approve Donald Trump’s golf course at Menie, in Aberdeenshire, after it was rejected by the local authority.

Around 1600 jobs have been promised by the developers behind the studio complex, which will boast six sound stages and is expected to provide a huge boost to efforts to attract blockbuster film productions and TV drama series.

Pentland Studios Limited hope to open for business by the end of next year once detailed permission is approved by Midlothian Council.

The local authority, which refused to support the scheme previously, signalled it would not oppose it in future, saying it “welcomed the opportunity for such a prestigious major development to be located in its area, providing substantial economic benefit at local, regional and national level.”

Both Edinburgh City Council and the Federation of Small Business predicted there would be long-term spin-offs from the studio development.

However a spokeswoman for Protect Damhead’s Greenbelt said: “This proposal has been objected to by residents, the community council, the local authority, the Scottish Government’s film studio delivery group, and its own reporter.

"Our community is devastated. Communities across Scotland should be worried about the roll out of such an approach to people, place and land.”

Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman said: “It’s important that Scotland has a film studio. However, this is the wrong place for it.

"Ministers have defied their own planning advice and it looks like they are desperate to approve a misconceived proposal. There are many more locations throughout Lothian that would have better suited this commercial development.”

Gordon Henderson, senior development manager with the Federation of Small Businesses, said he expected to see specialist firms move to the area to take advantage of new opportunities.

He said: “These studios will encourage specialist small businesses which supply the film and television industries to locate nearby if they are encouraged to do so from the outset and the route to tendering for work is a straightforward one.

“The planned creative industries hub on the site at Straiton makes a great deal of sense and will encourage collaboration with the region’s colleges and universities.

“Not only is the decision to allow the construction of the studio good news for the Edinburgh economy, but this site is in Midlothian, so it is vital that the economy team at Midlothian Council ensure the studios form part of their strategic plan going forward to maximise the jobs and economic benefit for the area.”

Gavin Barrie, economy leader with the city council, said: “It is great news for people in Edinburgh and the wider city region that we will should soon have a film studio complex on our doorstep.

“Edinburgh’s links to the film industry are already extremely strong through our annual film festival and the city starring in several recent blockbusters including Trainspotting 2 and the Avengers Infinity War movie currently being filmed here.

“This news builds on the city region’s recent success as Film Edinburgh reported at the beginning of this year that filming production in 2016 brought a record economic impact to the Edinburgh region with £7.7 million injected into the local economy - an 11.5 per cent rise on the 2015 figures.

“The studio facility will undoubtedly provide hundreds of new jobs and bring great economic benefits to the whole city region.”

A fully-fledged studio complex has long been seen as crucial to help Scotland compete for film and TV productions with Wales and Northern Ireland, where Doctor Who and Game of Thrones are filmed respectively.

Empty warehouses have had to be pressed into action for the likes of US fantasy drama Outlander, Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting and Avengers: Infinity War, which is currently filming in Edinburgh.

Other key parts of the Pentland Studios scheme include two Hollywood-style backlots, a 180-room hotel, a 50,000sq ft creative industries hub, 50,000 sq ft of workshop space and a film academy.

John Archer, chair of the Independent Producers Scotland group. which represents dozens of leading industry figures, said: “We welcome this private investment into the infrastructure of film making in Scotland.

“The studios will be well placed to take advantage of the terrific locations within easy reach. Alongside the building of the studios we’d like to see a private investment fund, to work alongside the public money that is invested in film.”

Rosie Ellison, manager of the Film Edinburgh commission, said: “As we saw with last year’s filming of T2 Trainspotting, it is when productions base themselves in Edinburgh, that the city really benefits in terms of economic impact.

"That we are one step closer to having the facilities and infrastructure in place is incredibly good news for the region, creating hundreds of jobs and attracting more high value film and TV productions to Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for national arts agency Creative Scotland said: “Once realised, Pentland Studios will provide a welcome boost to Scotland’s screen infrastructure, generating increased opportunity to accommodate large scale national and international productions, provide significant opportunity for skills development and lead to increased growth for the screen sector as a whole.”