Scottish film studio bid thrown into turmoil after farmer wins legal case

Scotland's first purpose-built film studio has been pursued for a site in Midlothian for several years.
Scotland's first purpose-built film studio has been pursued for a site in Midlothian for several years.
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Controversial plans to create Scotland’s first purpose-built film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh have been thrown into turmoil after a farmer won a legal battle to remain on land his family has occupied for more than 100 years.

Jim Telfer was facing eviction from his land at Damhead in Midlothian, which was earmarked for the Pentland Studios project.

But the Scottish Land Court has ruled they should not be removed from their 56 acres against their will.

The ruling calls into question the entire £250 million studio development, which was given final approval by the Scottish Government in December last year after an inquiry.

A final appeal to the Court of Session is already under consideration by a landowner hoping to sell the site for the studio, which was predicted to create 1600 new jobs.

Pentland Studios Limited, which spent four years pursuing the scheme, said it was “respectful, but disappointed” at the ruling. Director Jim O’Donnell said the company was “currently considering options” over its plans.

A spokesman for the Association of Film and Television Practitioners in Scotland said: “A succession of industry professionals gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament recently that a lack of studio space was the main reason for Scotland under-achieving in the screen sector.

“Scotland is now the worst performer in any of the UK nation and regions.

“It is obvious from the ruling that the court did not fully appreciate the financial significance of this studio for the film and TV industry in Scotland and the numerous crew members who work in it.”

Environmental campaigners claimed the proposed development was totally unsuitable for the site and had led to the Telfer family being threatened with eviction.

An official government 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”.

However, ministers said the project should be approved because its “potential for significant socio-economic benefits on a local and national scale through job creation and economic development”.

The Scottish Greens, who have supported the Telfers, said it was “incumbent” on the film industry and the government to come up with a new site for a studio “where development would be lawful”.

Last year the Telfers insisted they had no intention of leaving, despite several offers by landowner Nick Gibsone, who had agreed to sell his 100-acre estate for the studio.

Mr Gibsone said his family was “devastated” by the ruling.

He said: “We’re disappointed not only for ourselves and the developers, but for Midlothian and Scotland, with the loss of hundreds of potential jobs and the boost to the economy the film studio could deliver. The decision is complex and took some time to be produced. We must now consider all options, including appealing to the Court of Session.”

The written decision from the Scottish Land Court stated: “This estate does not need a film studio nor is there a community on the estate which would benefit from one.

“On the contrary, for it to go ahead, the only residents on the estate will have to leave. Moreover the estate itself is to be broken up as a direct result of this development. The estate as presently constituted will simply not exist if this project goes ahead. It will have lost more than half its area.

“The fact that one can hardly speak of a community when there is only one family living on the estate does not mean that that family’s interests are to be overlooked.

“On the contrary, the effect on them has to be taken into account when the court asks whether the resumption is for a reasonable purpose having relation to the good of the estate.

“That effect would be to dispossess them of all of their land, including their home and means of livelihood, and, although they would be compensated financially for that to the full extent required by law, it remains a negative effect since they would be leaving against their will.

“We recognise that deciding the case in such a way that a project said to be of national importance does not go ahead is a serious matter. However this is not the only place in Scotland on which such a development can take place.

“The considerable amount of work and expense which has been invested in it thus far shows that this is a serious and credible proposal. However it has come up against statutory protections on which the respondent is entitled to rely and which have compelled us to refuse the application.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Quite why the landlord, the developers and some voices within the Scottish film industry ignored the fact that a sitting tenant has legal rights that have now been upheld is for them to explain.

“We have been consistent in our support for our constituent throughout this process and hope that the stress and anxiety facing Jim and his family is now over.

“It is now incumbent on industry and the Scottish Government to deliver the much needed national film studio on a site where development would be lawful.”

Mr Gibsone added: "We are not by any means a wealthy family and the current estate is little more than 100 acres. We have spent five years trying to make the best of what we own and leave a lasting legacy that would be of benefit to the many, not the few.

"We had hoped to reach an amicable agreement with the smallholding tenant within the provisions of smallholding law, which would have resulted in substantial compensation and this remains the case."

A spokeswoman for national arts agency Creative Scotland said: "We will make ourselves available to Pentland Studios, with other partners, should they wish to explore future options.

"Meantime, we continue to pursue other permanent studio opportunities and actively market a range of studios and build-spaces for productions of all sizes, attracting them to film in Scotland."