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Film Studio Plans Stuck in Production

Four months after a planning application was submitted with hopes to build Scotland’s first film studio at Old Pentland, near Loanhead, the council’s planning committee are yet to consider it, citing “fundamental” disagreements regarding the proposed A701 bypass.

PSLL Ltd submitted a planning application in May of this year for the erection of a film studio complex, comprised of studios, backlots, film school, energy centre and gateway tour/office building, and were informed by Midlothian Council that they could expect determination to take place before 5 September 2015.

However four months on, the developer is continuing discussions with the local authority after it emerged they had differing views on the routing of the proposed A701 bypass.

The council want to safeguard two possible routes for the new trunk road in their 2016 Local Development Plan, which is due to be approved by councillors before the year’s end. It is their intention to construct a new route connecting the Bush Science Park (and Edinburgh University Campus) with the City Bypass, hopefully reducing the traffic flow on the current A701 and A702. To minimise the impact on the Greenbelt and the community of Damhead both proposed routes would run to the east of the ancient Cameron Woods at Old Pentland before travelling north over land previously deemed too unstable for construction.

The Scottish International Studios, or Pentland Studios for short, would be bisected by both route options, separating the complex into two. PSLL Ltd anticipate that the bisection would pose acoustical, visual, security and environmental problems and have therefore omitted the proposed routing from their plans. Midlothian Council’s planning office Joyce Learmonth has since asked the developer to elaborate on their omission, saying:

I have significant concerns about the lack of safeguarding of the A701 Relief Road through the site, shown in the proposed Local Development Plan for Midlothian. The corridor passes through your site but it is not safeguarded. This is a fundamental issue for the Council. I am concerned that this could lead to the whole development strategy for this corridor failing, before a Local Development Plan is adopted.

In a following planning document the developer retorted:

Perhaps the most important element of this planning application is the connectivity between the masterplan elements of the film studio, the energy generation plant, the data centre and the film academy. The benefits of a single campus, albeit separated for security purposes into various elements would be lost by the potential of the Relief Road bisecting the site into two distinct components.

This could result in a diminution of funding capability for both the film studio and the commercial spin off sites connected both physically and electronically together. Such potential diminution puts the financial viability of the development severely at risk.

Midlothian Council’s latest Development Plan relies on the realignment heavily to develop land for both residential and commercial development. At Bilston, the new route could open up land capable of holding three hundred homes whilst the council are keen to see the former greenbelt land at Straiton West developed creating a shopping and leisure complex to rival Fort Kinnaird in the East and the Gyle Shopping Centre in the West.

The reallocation of greenbelt land has angered local residents and campaigners alongside the residents of Damhead who feel their community will become a suburb of Edinburgh.

Under planning regulations though, the film studio must be accessed under the current planning policies, of which the A701 realignment is not one. The current opposing policy is that relating to the protection of the greenbelt. However, should the council grant permission now, they face having to alter their proposed plan after two lengthy public consultations likely forcing them to re-engage with stakeholders and the public with the updated routings.

PSLL Ltd denied there was a sticking point saying:

This is a large and complex application which requires time for careful consideration by the Council. We are working closely with the Council to try and achieve a satisfactory outcome.

The developer faces several options. They can proceed with the plans unchanged, likely leading to refusal. Furthermore, they can proceed with the plans unchanged but with supplementary guidance as to their favourable route describing the associated costings and their contributions towards the project. Alternatively, they could return to the drawing board and submit plans taking into account the preferred route. Failing those options PSLL Ltd could appeal to the Scottish Government for non-determination within a four month period. A government reporter would then assess the application and ultimately make the decision on whether to approve or refuse, perhaps even suggesting Scottish Ministers step in.

Despite these hurdles, the developer remains confident that their £359m investment and subsequent £455m Gross Development Value, along with the creation of hundreds of jobs, will tilt the approval scales in their favour.

Midlothian Council’s planning committee will meet on October 6 to discuss the current major planning applications.

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