Film studio plan threatens 100-year farming family

A FAMILY faces being forced off land it has farmed for a century to make way for a £40 million film studio at the foot of the Pentlands.

Thursday, 19th February 2015, 8:17 am
Tennant farmer James Telfer. Picture: Jacek Hubner
Tennant farmer James Telfer. Picture: Jacek Hubner

Jim Telfer’s grandfather first began working his family’s 60-acre farm at Damhead in 1915, when George V was on the throne and allied troops were fighting in the trenches at Gallipoli.

Now his family claim the descendants of the same landowners who signed the original lease are pressuring Mr Telfer to abandon the farm so that the site can be sold to developers hoping to bring Hollywood A-listers to Midlothian.

Mr Telfer, who is 80 years old, still grazes sheep on the land with the help of his wife Mary. His daughters Mary and Elsie say their parents have been “quite distraught” to read reports that the land is vacant when they still use it for farming.

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The plans for the new studio. Picture:Ian Georgeson

They claim landowner Nick Gibsone appeared at Mr Telfer’s door with a letter offering compensation in exchange for abandoning the farm.

One of the daughters, Mary Begbie, said: “It’s extremely distressing for my parents, most of all my mother. They have no information about what is going on.

“My father’s family have farmed that piece of ground since 1915. It’s absolutely atrocious what is happening. My father is 80 years old, and they were looking for him to sign a document that would release it as agricultural ground. I think that’s absolutely appalling.”

The land is now administered by the Pentland Estate on behalf of the Gibsone family, who have been the local landowners since the 17th century when their ancestors purchased the barony of Pentland.

Mr Telfer’s grandfather took control of the farm under the 1886 Crofters Holdings Act, which gives him ownership of the farmhouse and buildings but not the land itself. However, any move to evict the family would have to be approved by the Scottish Land Court, which is presided over by a judge and can rule over disputes between tenant farmers and landlords.

The Telfers are among the last family farmers in Damhead, and residents fear that the village’s character could be lost if the film studio is built.

Kate Holbrook, who works with Damhead Community Council on planning issues, said residents were angry that their own development plan for the village, which favours small agricultural businesses employing local people, had been “ignored” by developers, who she says have failed to consult the community.

She said: “We have a positive vision for the area that involves encouraging land-based activities. Then you have large developers come in and without any engagement with the community, trump that vision.

“That is very good agricultural land. There is very little of that across Scotland, but a lot of it is threatened with going under tarmac or concrete.”

Residents also claim other pieces of land within the proposed film studio site are unsuitable for development including a 500ft deep decommissioned tip and an illegal dump believed to contain contaminated waste. The plans include a hotel and shops, as well as a giant backlot that could accommodate the biggest film productions.

In a statement issued by Mr Gibsone’s lawyers, the landowner said, on behalf of the Pentland Estate Trustees: “As this is an ongoing matter, subject to planning regulation and the legal process, it would be inappropriate to comment.”