Scottish Government on verge of backing new Scots film studio

An artist's impression of the proposed Pentland Studio development at Straiton. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the proposed Pentland Studio development at Straiton. Picture: Contributed
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The Scottish Government has signalled it is set to finally back a new national film studio - after admitting the country has not done enough to satisfy the demands of the industry.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has raised hopes that a controversial development on the outskirts of Edinburgh will be given the go-ahead by stressing the need to improve the nation’s “offer to the global screen sector.”

Just one major studio is up and running in Scotland at present - a warehouse complex in Lanarkshire converted three years ago for the US fantasy series Outlander, which is expected to keep using it for the foreseeable future.

Ms Hyslop insisted the government was “very much open” to new proposals from the private sector but said it was “crucial” that such schemes did not run the risk of breaching strict rules over state aid funding.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Ms Hyslop said she could not comment directly on the Pentland Studios proposal due to an ongoing planning appeal.

But she insisted the country was now able to support more than one facility after the success of Outlander helped boost the value of the industry to a record £45 million last year.

A £4 million deal to help pay for an expansion of the Outlander studio complex at the Wardpark Industrial Estate in Cumbernauld was announced by the government in the spring - nearly two years after it set up a “film studio delivery group” to explore options around the country.

However the government has yet to endorse a much bigger project which would see the nation’s first purpose-built studio complex built on a 100-acre site at Straiton, in Midlothian.

Ministers are due to decide on the scheme - which would see the creation of six sound stages and two outdoor “backlots” - within the next few months.

• READ MORE: Film producer Lord Puttnam urges creation of Scots film studio

Ms Hyslop has spoken out over the prospect of futher studio developments only weeks after leading industry figures wrote to all MSPS demanding that the proposed Pentland Studios project be treated as “an issue of national importance to Scotland.”

The Association of Film and Television Producers in Scotland, which is behind the lobbying campaign, says the Straiton scheme would have a “much greater contribution to jobs and the Scottish economy” than the Wardpark expansion if it was given the green light.

Addressing delegates at the festival, Ms Hyslop told them: “We are not yet where we want to be, we are certainly not complacent and we recognise that there is still work to do.

“The UK screen industry brings £6 billion benefits to the UK economy. I am determined that this nation benefits from a proportionate share and I cannot overstate how hard we are working to ensure that Scotland is in a position to do this.

“That’s why we have the funding in place to attract productions to Scotland and that is why we are working very hard with our partner bodies to create the conditions to make permanent screen facilities possible.

“I want to reiterate that although we are very pleased with the progress that we have made, this development (Outlander’s studio) will form part of Scotland’s offer to the global screen sector: it is not the only solution to Scotland’s studio needs.

“We have analysed our options and we know a public sector-led option is not state aid compliant. But we know that Scotland can support more than one facility and that’s why we are very much open to new proposals from the private sector which are - and this is the crucial point - state aid compliant.”

Jim O’Donnell, development director of the Pentland Studios project, said: “The delivery of the project is now down to a decision by the Scottish Government.

“Granting of our application will realise the opportunities that the creative industries in Scotland are asking for and meet the aspirations of the government for the film and TV sector.”

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