Huge 'Harbour 31' creative quarter earmarked for land around Leith Docks film studio in Edinburgh
A vast new creative industries quarter is set to take shape around Scotland’s biggest film studio complex under plans to transform part of Edinburgh’s docklands.
The operators of the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith are in talks with dock operator Forth Ports to ensure their complex is linked to a new waterfront neighbourhood earmarked for industrial sites.
Film producer Bob Last and actor-director Jason Connery, who have already attracted two huge Amazon shows to the studio, want to help shape a vast “eco-system” around the 115,000sqft facility. Last has revealed ambitions for the studio and the surrounding area to become a hub for film and TV production on the east coast of Scotland.
He said the docklands area earmarked for the wider Harbour 31 development, which will boast its own hotel and be served by Edinburgh’s expanding tram network, could become a base for numerous creative industries in future, as well as a place for its workers to live.
Old dock sheds, a pump house and former shipping containers are planned to be turned into new warehouse facilities, workspaces for businesses of all sizes, commercial units and offices on the doorstep of the studio. A public square, waterside boardwalk, cafes, bars and restaurants are also envisaged as part of the new neighbourhood, which is hoped to develop a similar “vibe” to the nearby Shore area in Leith.
Plans to expand the eco-system around the studio have emerged as Last confirmed a third major production was expected to use the studio facility next year. He also revealed FirstStage, which has been used by Amazon to film The Rig and Anansi Boys so far, was also deployed for the feature film The Outrun recently.
Last and Connery clinched a deal with the Scottish Government and Forth Ports to turn the former wave power plant into a studio in 2020. They have been working with Forth Ports on the Harbour 31 development, which will open up part of the eastern end of the docks to the public for the first time.
Up to 800 new homes are envisaged as part of the Harbour 31 scheme around the 19th century Edinburgh Dock, which Forth Ports says is aimed at “meeting the demand for greener living”.
Also involved in the new Harbour 31 partnership is the property firm Tartan Commercial, whose founder Andy Hadden is behind plans to create Scotland’s first artificial surf park on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Last said: “Forth Ports want this area to become a creative quarter. Jason and I are partnering up with them and another investor on further development of the docks for creative and commercial uses. We’re looking at the part of the development that is right next to the studio. It would be developed in a way that wouldn’t be an extension of the studio, but would be part of the same eco-system.
“Along with our partners, we’re very keen that the whole idea of the bigger development is anchored around it being next to the creative quarter. What’s crucial about Harbour 31 is that it's about jobs and is not just about housing. Nobody wants a housing estate put into Leith Docks. That’s why we’re engaging with it.
“The council is being very supportive. They want the eco-system around the studio to expand and grow. That eco-system is not just about supplying and providing services to our customers. It would be about film-making on the east coast.”
Last said the studio had already helped the wider screen sector by offering both workshop space and parking for unit bases for productions shooting elsewhere. He said the two Amazon shows had already generated interest from crew members in relocating to Edinburgh, with the city itself key in securing the backing of Amazon.
He added: “If you’re making big shows, your cast are a big part of how you fund it. If Amazon are making a show of that scale, they’re going to put people in it that you’ve heard of.
“If you’re talking to someone like that and can say, ‘Would you like to come to work for six months and stay in a five-star hotel in Edinburgh?’ that’s a big asset. That was a big part of our thinking.
“Another reason the studio made sense to us is that Leith has had a creative vibe about it and its own creative sector, albeit it on a small scale. That wider eco-system in Leith has always been a part of why we thought this studio would work.”
Last said “many millions” of pounds were being invested in the FirstStage building itself, with early phases including work to install soundproofed roofing and walls, as well as its own cranes for the studio spaces.
He said: “You have to be careful with a building like this that you upgrade it in the right way, so that it still works for the customer and that you don’t accidentally remove something that is cool and useful.
“There is an open pit in one studio, which we weren’t sure about when we took over, but it’s been the most used part of the building.
“A new stairwell was put in for The Rig so that it became part of the oil rig and was built out into a whole set. It was also used to film an industrial rave for The Outrun, and was filled with half a million litres of water for a big underwater shoot. There are very few tanks available for filming outside London.
“It’s great for us to have shows that really take advantage of what the building offers. Both The Rig and Anansi Boys, who were here for 95 weeks straight through, really did that and built huge things. Hopefully the same will apply to the big show we expect to come in next year. It’s of the same scale in terms of the length of time they will be here.”