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

Film Studio Plans Rebuffed by Government

Pleas for the government to rule on multimillion pound plans to construct a film studio complex in Straiton, Midlothian, have been rejected citing a lack of national interest.

Last month, it emerged that following a delay in determination proceedings PSL Land Ltd had written to Scottish Government ministers requesting they “call-in” the application to resolve it with greater urgency.

The developer intends to create a film studio complex comprised of film studios, backlots, hotel, energy centre and more, on soon to be delisted greenfield land to the west of the A701 at Straiton. However, the statutory 16 week determination passed in September leaving PSL to consider their options. They waited until November 28 when their letter requesting help was submitted to Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for  Social Justice and Communities.

In a reply to the plea, the Local Government and Communities Directorate, Planning and Architecture Division, stated that ministers would only consider ruling on an application if it raised issues of “genuine national interest”.

They continued:

Having considered the information available for this proposal and while noting the major potential of the proposal and the intended delivery of an energy centre and film studio for Scotland; Ministers do not propose to call-in the application at this time.

The statement that the studios are not of genuine national interest, has prompted one member of the public to start a petition requesting that the Scottish Government back the proposals. At the time of writing, 2047 signatures had been penned on the online document. One signatory, Screen Education Edinburgh, commented:

It’s vitally important that Scotland grows its film and TV sector, providing opportunity for young talent, film production, TV production and commercial production, whilst competing with increasing competition and opportunity from regional neighbours.

As one of the lead organisations in Scotland developing young people in the moving image, in particular those from socially excluded and diverse backgrounds, with a comprehensive project workload across Edinburgh and the Lothians, this particular development would provide an unrivalled progression into the workplace for young talent we work with.

The development is not without opponents. Spanning many acres of currently Greenbelt land, the complex would infringe on ancient woodland and Damhead, a move residents feel would have a detrimental effect on the environment and their lifestyles. Consulted bodies have also aired concerns.

Ultimately the problems faced by PSL Land Ltd likely come down to bad timing. Midlothian Council are currently in the process of finalising their Local Development Plan (LDP), which will safeguard a new route for the A701 bypass through the proposed studio site. Officials at the local authority are concerned that the new LDP could fail should the developers not take into account the proposed routing in their proposals. Determination was therefore delayed to allow the development plan to be ratified in June 2016, when the proposals could be considered using the new planning policies rather than those currently in operation.

Now that minsters have rejected the opportunity to overrule the local authority, PSL Land Ltd has submitted an appeal to the Directorate for Planning and Environment Appeals on the basis of non-determination. This will see the application assigned to a Scottish government reporter who will consider the submissions and representations, making a decision to grant, refuse or pass to the Ministers. It is possible that Scottish Ministers may still rule on the application at a later date. Whether this date will beat the June 2016 date set by the council is unknown.

These delays will come as a blow to developers who were keen to commence construction as soon as possible, in order to have half the film complex operational by 2017.

The Scottish Government are supposedly looking into establishing a national film studio. Other private developments are believed to be in the works, though the Scottish International Studios by PSL Land Ltd are the only ones to have reached the formal application stage.

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