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Battle of the Film Studio Petitions

A battle between community activists is being waged over plans to build a film studio on land at Damhead.

It is a process usually undertaken behind local authority or governmental doors but vocal campaigners are seeking to draw the film studio debate into the public eye.

Two rival groups have launched separate opposing petitions, one in support of a £140m planned film studio complex near Straiton and the other in objection, instead seeking the continued agricultural use of the soon to be delisted greenbelt land.

Both parties have been spurred on by a Scottish Government rethink which will see PSL Land Ltd’s planning application considered in parliament by Ministers. A initial plea from developers for the government to “call-in” the application was rebuffed leading to a non-determination appeal by PSLL to the Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals. This move, however, has essentially reopened the public consultation process allowing the public and other bodies to put their arguments to the government. It is an opportunity that has been ceased by the petitioners who, at the time of writing, had amassed 4858 signatures in total.

At the start of December, the first petition was launched in support of the film studio development, initially asking ministers to consider the project of “national importance” and subsequently calling it in for consideration. Shortly after launching, thousands flocked from all over the country to demand support. One comment that proved popular amongst signers was that by Jonny Kerr who said:

The embarassing lack of a film studio within Scotland has left the country badly lagging behind not only the other home nations, but many other countries within Europe. Without the necessary infrastructure put in place, Scotland will continue to lose out economically as the country’s healthy pool of creative and technical talent slowly seeps away in search of employment outwith our shores.


Two weeks after the launch, the government decided they will rule on the application and the petition entitled “Support the development of Pentland Film Studios!” asked the public to write to their MSP’s highlighting their views. Some of these were posted to Facebook including a response from Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack (Lab) who said:

I hope that it will prove helpful that I have already made representations to Alex Neil MSP, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, arising from the first letter that I received from a constituent.

I am hopeful that Scottish Minsters take a supportive view, in cognisance of the issues that you and others have raised with me and arising from the recent media reports on the viability of the Straiton proposals.

The support petition currently stands at 3,237 signatures and can be seen here.

Shortly before Christmas, a Damhead resident launched an opposing petition, calling on the Scottish Government to refuse the application on grounds that the developers will have to evict local resident and farmer Jim Teller from his farm on the land, along with other environmental concerns.

In a letter to The Penicuik Cuckoo by petitioner Nathalie Holbrook, she condemns those who are supportive:

Those in favour have dismissed the community’s comments on loss of agricultural land and biodiversity as insignificant – and would see heritage buildings demolished and green space trapped under 28.6 metre high buildings and concrete. Our objection is aligned with the vision that underpins our local Neibourhood Action Plan, heralded by the Midlothian Community Planning Partnership. The Neighbourhood Plan supports Scottish Government ambitions for a fairer, greener, healthier, safer and wealthier Scotland including government policies and climate targets. The same cannot be true for the Pentland Proposal, those behind the proposal, with no connection to the local land or the people are pushing forwards at all costs and accusing the community of being ‘loyal’ by standing up for their farmers rights. (Read in full here)

It emerged last year that one of Damhead’s last farming families, the Telfers, had been approached by the land owner and asked to vacate in exchange for compensation, thus allowing the site to be developed. Farmer Jim Telfer has worked the land all his life, following in the footsteps of his ancestors who signed the lease of the land under the 1886 Crofters Holdings Act giving them ownership of the farmhouses and buildings but not the land. An eviction would have to go through the Scottish Land Court.

Damhead Community Council and the community’s residents fear that the plans for the studio complex and the proposed A701 bypass, could have a detrimental impact on the character and rural nature of the area.

Daughter of the landholder, Mary Begbie, defended the “agricultural land” in a comment on the petition:

My father is the current landholder of this smallholding, his family purchased the building in 1915 and have farmed this land since then. This is his home, business and life. There are numerous brown sites available to develop leave prime agricultural ground within the green belt as it stands. To pour concrete on the land is wrong.

The opposition petition stands at 1,621 signatures and can be found here.

A decision by Ministers will be made before the end of February and if approved it could see the erection of six state of the art soundstages, workshops, backlot facilities, a film school, student accommodation, energy centre and more.

The application comes as Midlothian Council propose the declassification of the current greenbelt land, allowing it to be developed under plans to route the A701 bypass to the west of the land. The council will ratify their Local Development Plan in June.

What’s your view? Let us know below or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.