Martin Hannan: Film studio is a reel opportunity

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When the Evening News broke the big exclusive that a national film studio was being planned for Straiton just south of Edinburgh, I could have leapt for joy, but also wept with sympathy for the people planning to build it.

This country has been crying out for a major studio for years, and we have probably lost tens of millions of pounds of foreign investment because of the lack of proper soundstages and all the workshops associated with major film production.

New Zealand has a population less than that of Scotland, but its film industry is thriving on foreign money. Why? Because it has studios such as the large Auckland Film Studios, owned 100 per cent by the city council.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that Midlothian or Edinburgh Councils build their own studios, but at the very least no local authority should put obstacles in the way of a Scottish national film studio.

Having been involved tangentially with similar plans in the past, I can tell the developers Pentland Studios Ltd that they may well be in for a pile of grief.

Unless Midlothian Council is entirely different from other councils across the land, there will be a tortuous planning process with the developers being made to jump through all sorts of circuitous hoops to get an approximation of what they want.

I note that the plan includes a hotel, retail and leisure element so no doubt the developers will be accused of getting planning permission for a studio so that they can build the other lucrative facilities first – a so-called ‘Trojan horse’ development.

That won’t happen because the council has the power to force the studio to be built first, or at least simultaneously with the other facilities, under Section 75 of the Planning Act 2006.

These other facilities are necessary to provide income for the studio so that it does not start with a massive debt millstone.

It looks like a good plan, and quite a familiar one to me, and the only real issue is do we need a national film studio at all? Well if Scotland is to take its place in the world as an independent nation – as this SNP member fervently hopes will happen on September 18 – then the answer is a resounding Yes.

If you can’t portray your country and its culture on film and television screens then you are not part of the modern world. Braveheart showed how tourism is boosted by a country’s scenery being featured on the big screen, even if it was mostly shot in Ireland – they have studios there, funnily enough – while the Lord of the Rings trilogy massively increased tourism to New Zealand.

Scotland has a wide variety of outdoor locations that producers and directors love, but they invariably say that the lack of studio facilities is a major disincentive for them to come.

Glasgow has its own plans for film studios and I understand other places are developing their own as part of a ‘beauty contest’ to see where the national film studio will be built, with £3 million of public money promised for the successful plan.

Personally I don’t care where the studio ends up, though Straiton must have a good chance. Just as long as it gets built.

Can we bear it?

The latest rumour is that Tian Tian could be expecting twins, which could mean that there will soon be four times as many pandas in Scotland as Tory MPs. Tee, hee!

Labour stalwart got things done

SAD to see that Peter Boyes has had to step down from his seat on Midlothian Council due to increasing ill-health. He gave 36 years of service to the people of Midlothian, and the former miner was always the kind of ‘can do’ Old Labour stalwart who actually got things done for their community.

He showed that when he fell out with the local Labour Party over the issue of the new Newbattle High School – he put the people and principles first, unlike New Labour.

A very likeable man that I respect greatly, I can only hope that his health improves in retirement.

City gentleman will be missed

A REAL gentleman of Edinburgh passed away suddenly at the weekend and the family and many friends of Bill Rae will mourn him.

I worked with Bill for a decade back in the City of Edinburgh District Council PR department, and I’m sure my former colleagues there and in various newspapers will not mind me saying that Bill was the kindest and most professional journalist I ever worked with.

He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city of Edinburgh, and was always prepared to use that knowledge for the good of the Capital. He wrote the Official Guide published by Mainstream not long before he retired, and it really was a labour of love. He will be much missed.

Winning plan for lucky Willie

CONGRATULATIONS to Willie Sibbald on his £7 million Lottery win. Nice to see somebody local who is renowned as a hard worker get such a break.

No doubt he’ll be plagued with people looking for a few quid, but he shouldn’t let himself get too bothered. If it ever happened to me, I wouldn’t worry about begging letters – I’d keep sending them!