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The Reception Building and Oasis © Keppie and PSL Land

Plans for First Scottish Film Studio Submitted

Developers behind multimillion pound plans to construct Scotland’s first purpose built film studio in Midlothian have formally submitted an application to the council.

Pentland Studios, PSLL, are progressing with proposals to create a large film and television studio complex on land to the west of ASDA at Straiton. Having undertaken environmental screenings and held a public consultation, the developers have compiled an application, which as of today, 5 May, has been submitted to  Midlothian Council for consideration.

Their plans for the, soon to be delisted, greenbelt land include six sound stages, an external water-stage, two backlots, workshops and production office spaces all centred around 50,000 sq.ft reception building and “landscaped oasis” (shown). In addition to this will be a film academy, partnered with a city based education institution, associated student accommodation and an onsite hotel for both actors and visitors. A studio tour, similar to that in Warner Brother’s Leavesden Studios, will also be housed in a special onsite building, though developers admit they must secure lucrative international contracts to establish the need for such a facility. Overall PSLL are hopeful to have the facility operating by 2017, with construction starting in August this year.

Jim O’Donnell, PSLL Development Director, and former development manager for Warner Bros said:

We look forward to creating a world-class facility to complement Scotland’s existing studio spaces and stunning locations. Situated on the outskirts of one of Europe’s greatest cities, the proposed studio will place broadcast, indigenous and international film production needs at the forefront, whilst retaining the character and integrity of the local area and its natural beauty.

To target both the regional, national and international markets, six state-of-the-art sound stages will create ample opportunities for the even the largest of blockbusters. Included in the build will be two 15,000 sq ft, two 20,000 sq ft and two 30,000 sq ft sound stages, the largest of which will reach a height of 70 feet, with the remaining four stages measuring 50 feet each. An additional 55,000 sq ft of workshops will provide preparatory and post production areas for the creative departments. PSLL ltd are targeting those outwith the film industry and are open to using the studios for television, advertising and theatrical uses.

If the interior space is not enough, a 45,000 sq ft exterior ‘paddock’ water-stage and two backlots, of 8.6 acres and 20.14 acres respectively, will provide space to construct entire sets, allowing producers to film outside, uninterrupted by ground or air traffic. The ability to use the natural landscape to their advantage, is just one reason why the developers chose Straiton over another 28 possible sites throughout the country.

A bird's eye view of the development. © Keppie
A bird’s eye view of the development. © Keppie

Phase two of the build, which will be delivered after the sound stages open in 2017, subject to permission, will include a film academy comprising of a 28,000 sq ft teaching pavilion and 33,000 sq ft of student residence. A visitor attraction is also proposed over a 23,000 sq ft area, inviting the general public to experience the working dynamic of a world-class production facility. A 180 bed hotel and spa would accommodate any visitors to the complex and is currently being marketed to international hoteliers.

Behind the design of the project is leading multi-national practice Keppie Design. Alan Seddon, Keppie Design Divisional Director, Architecture commented:

Film and television play an important role in people’s lives, but for most of us their production is such a remote activity, both physically and emotionally. That a project like this should be coming to Scotland is amazing and we at Keppie feel genuinely privileged to have been involved in getting it to this stage. Now that we have achieved such a significant milestone, we have our sights firmly set on the next stage and are looking forward to delivering the studio itself.

A satellite “earth-station” and accompanying 75,000 sq ft data centre will house essential secure cloud-based file storage systems and the dedicated 100MW gas-fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant will significantly contribute to the Studios’ energy efficiency. The earth station will allow producers to send their filmed material across the globe in realtime, and also paves the way for live television broadcasts to come from studios.

Opposite IKEA, the developers have also safeguarded a 12 acre site for further mixed uses, possibly including a business park or cinema. This however would be delivered in the third and final stage of the build.

PSLL Chairman, Douglas McGhee said:

We are very pleased to have progressed the project to this next stage, and thank all members of the public and industry who contributed to the public consultation process. With extensive research and design talent behind the project, we hope this application will be recognised not only as a significant asset for Midlothian, but also for Scotland, the film, television and creative industries across the globe.

However, the entire development hangs on Midlothian Council delisting the greenbelt land through their proposals to realign the A701. Under their plans in the forthcoming Midlothian Local Development Plan, the trunk route will be diverted westbound through the greenbelt, allowing hectares of land to be developed, creating, what the council calls the “Midlothian Gateway”. Residents in Damhead have been objecting to the £17m road project, which could see the loss of key agricultural and biodiversity land. Heather MacKay of the Damhead Community Council told us:

The residents of Damhead welcome sustainable development, appropriate to the nature of their community and Midlothian’s character in general. This film studio fits none of these criteria. Such a major development of multiple warehouses approaching the height of The Kelpies, and a power plant would destroy a large piece of Midlothian’s prime agricultural green belt land and be costly to the local environment. It would increase air, light and noise pollution, traffic congestion and destroy precious habitats. This would be an atrocity for the region and the local communities, not to mention the resident farm tenant Jim Telfer who is being threatened with eviction against his will.

Midlothian Council are expected to open a consultation later this month to discuss their development plan proposals, though they won’t be implemented until Autumn 2016, one year after PSLL hope to break ground onsite.

This legal sticking point along with rival proposals from Cumbernauld and Dundee could see the development caught up in months of wrangling. However with the coalition partner in Midlothian Council, Peter De Vink, stating that “we must bend over backwards to accommodate the developers”, it is clear that the studio complex is viewed favourably by those who will ultimately make the decision on approval. Any which way, you can submit your comments on the proposals here (ref.15/00364/PPP).

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