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

Comment: The Right Decision Much Too Late

Why did it take 137 weeks to reach a decision that should have been made in 16?

There is much you can do in nearly three years. If you had started to study a media course in September 2014, you may shortly be graduating from University. Yet, it seems seeking planning approval for a film studio is a completely different matter.

962 days after PSL Land submitted an application in principle for a Film Studio complex near Straiton in Midlothian, there has finally been a decision. The Government has turned all the arduous work undertaken in this period on its head by giving approval despite refusal recommendations from their own reporter and local council (which operates under the same political banner). So what was the point? Why didn’t Ministers just do this sooner? Why was the gamble taken to put off a decision for so long that even if approval was given, the funding could simply have disappeared?

These are all questions that need answered.

The Film Studio will be a colossal boon to Midlothian, that is irrefutable. It is an economy boosting, 900 job creating, tourism inducing gift that the county perhaps doesn’t now deserve. Yes, it is not without its faults, major applications never are, but on land that was going to be developed eventually anyway, I’d much rather see something as unique and exciting as a Film Studio rather than five hundred bland detached homes.

There is however a significant problem. The Scottish Government have perhaps not just thrown Midlothian Council’s proposed Local Development Plan (LDP) out the window, but have taken it out into the back garden and buried it. Plans for the A701 bypass are in tatters. The proposed routings are gone and with it, any hope that west Midlothian’s congestion problems could be solved relatively easily by building a new road. Now, the council are faced with proposing a controversial route through the community of Damhead or abandoning the entire proposal, returning to the drawing board in the basement of Buccleuch house and creating a new LDP. As acknowledged by the Scottish Government’s reporter, the deliverability of thousands of new homes in Midlothian is now in question:

If Ministers were to grant planning permission in principle at this stage, there would be a risk that the delivery of LDP allocated sites would be impaired by a lack of capacity in the road network. As such a significant proportion of the proposed LDP’s housing and employment site allocations are in the A701 corridor (as is required by SESplan) this, in my view, would undermine the plan-making process by predetermining decisions about the scale, location or phasing of new developments that are central to the emerging plan

The Government’s Ministers have not only overruled all their recommendations but have also proven, that should the situation arise, they are willing to overrule local planning policy and regional development plans; determining their own centralised interpretation of a plan that should be devoid of Governmental interference.

Approval is the right decision but it has come much too late at the hands of a party who should never have to get involved in planning decisions. Let’s make sure that this sorry situation is never repeated again by just making a decision within the stipulated 16 weeks.