Planners deal major blow to Straiton film studio bid

The proposed site is in a predominantly rural setting. Picture: Contributed
The proposed site is in a predominantly rural setting. Picture: Contributed
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A bid to create the nation’s first film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh has been dealt a huge blow after council officials said it should be thrown out.

Planners have delivered a damning verdict on the controversial Pentland Studios project – the latest in a series of attempts to get such a facility off the ground in Scotland.

They say the £150 million scheme proposed for Straiton is unsuitable for green belt land, would caused unacceptable disruption to local residents, and threaten the expansion of the Edinburgh Science Triangle development.

Fears have been raised that it will blight the landscape and ruin views from the nearby Pentland Hills. Doubt has been cast on claimed economic benefits from the Pentland Studios project while the lack of a commercial backer for the venture, announced in August 2014, has been questioned.

A fully-fledged studio complex is seen as crucial to help Scotland compete for film and TV productions with Wales and Northern Ireland, where Doctor Who and Game of Thrones are filmed.

Promised facilities include six “sound stages” up to 70 ft tall for indoor filming, two backlots suitable for blockbuster productions, a 50,000sq ft 
creative industries hub and 50,000sq ft of workshop space.

Up to 900 jobs have been predicted for the development, earmarked for an 86-acre swathe of land close to the Straiton Retail Park, which has been billed as the UK’s third-biggest film studio complex.

The Scottish Government will rule on the studio scheme after the consortium behind the project appealed on the grounds of non-determination by Midlothian Council, which has submitted a lengthy dossier to an independent reporter who will make recommendations to ministers.

The project team – led by former Ealing Studios director Jeremy Pelzer and former Warner Bros development manager Jim O’Donnell – previously pulled out of a bidding process for a publicly funded Scottish studio in frustration at the way it was being handled.

The government and Scottish Enterprise announced last February that they were in talks with a private sector developer over another site in Scotland, with a deal expected to be concluded within eight weeks. However, no progress has been announced on the project since then, to the growing frustration of film and television industry leaders.

More than 3,300 people have backed a petition calling for the Straiton scheme to get the green light. However, the council received just 19 letters of support for the project, compared to 49 objections.

Its report, by head of economy Ian Johnson, states: “The proposed scale of development cannot be achieved on this site without significant landscape visual impact, especially considering the visual prominent location of the application site at the open rolling landscape providing the setting for the Pentland Hills and the green belt land associated with Edinburgh.

“The proposed buildings are approximately three times as high as the nearby Asda store and with only limited scope for any worthwhile mitigation.

“They are of a scale which does not sit well in the landscape or relate to surrounding developments. A large-scale development such as this will impact in a highly negative manner onthe integrity of the Pentland Hills Regional Park as well as the entrance to and setting of Edinburgh.”