Is the film stu­dio saga be­gin­ning its fi­nal episode?

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - PHIL MILLER

MAYBE, at some point in the fu­ture (if we are spared) all this talk of de­lay, dis­may, trav­esty and dys­func­tion over the build­ing of an in­ter­na­tional Scot­tish film stu­dio will seem merely in­ter­est­ing. A his­tor­i­cal foot­note, a dated se­ries of events, or non-events.

In this fu­ture – three years hence? – ma­jor films are be­ing made on a reg­u­lar ba­sis at this multi-sound stage fa­cil­ity some­where in Scot­land, many peo­ple are em­ployed gain­fully in and around the stu­dio, money is be­ing made from beau­ti­ful, inspiring or even just pop­u­lar films shot both on lo­ca­tion and in­doors, and the present state of un­happy sta­sis is merely a bad mem­ory.

In this utopia, a newly re­sourced film in­dus­try flour­ishes north of the border, and com­petes heartily with Belfast, Lon­don, and even York­shire for ma­jor in­ter­na­tional films and TV se­ries whilst also, per­haps, find­ing time and money and in­vest­ment to paint its own and oth­ers sto­ries on the widest, bright­est can­vass.

Right now, there is a feel­ing that a reck­on­ing is due. Yes, prepara­tory work is be­gin­ning on a project, backed by some pub­lic money, to ex­pand – with a 30,000 sq ft sound stage build­ing which can be di­vided into two – the fa­cil­ity in Cum­ber­nauld, Ward­park Stu­dios, where the TV se­ries Out­lander is filmed.

Mean­while, at the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, ministers are read­ing over a re­port into the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion of PSL Land Ltd, which wants to build a large film stu­dio at Straiton, near Ed­in­burgh.

This de­ci­sion, as you might re­mem­ber from a num­ber of news sto­ries in the past two years, is now in the hands of ministers be­cause the ini­tial de­ci­sion on it, by Mid­loth­ian Coun­cil, was de­layed.

PSL asked for the de­ci­sion to be “called in” by the Gov­ern­ment, a re­quest ini­tially re­jected, but ac­cepted on ap­peal. The Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion was ini­tially due in Fe­bru­ary last year, then April.

It was fur­ther de­layed, we are told, by the Scot­tish elec­tion and then the Brexit vote in June. Fi­nally, af­ter a year, the re­port on this mat­ter, by an in­de­pen­dent plan­ning re­porter, was re­ceived by the Gov­ern­ment at the end of De­cem­ber.

The plan, which is backed only by pri­vate money, in­cludes sev­eral sound stages, as well as other build­ings such as a ho­tel. Ministers de­cided to have the mat­ter called in be­cause, they said more than a year ago, they “recog­nise the po­ten­tial eco­nomic and cul­tural ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with this pro­posal to be one of na­tional im­por­tance.”

“Na­tional im­por­tance” is a pro­found phrase and that, one might spec­u­late kindly, is per­haps one rea­son why it has taken so long for the de­ci­sion to be made. Maybe they have other con­cerns. It was in­ter­est­ing to me, al­though per­haps I was read­ing too much into it, that the lat­est Gov­ern­ment state­ment on the mat­ter called it a “mixed use de­vel­op­ment which in­cludes a film stu­dio.” Surely the stu­dio is the most per­ti­nent part of the plan?

They may mull fur­ther. Af­ter all, if ministers re­ject the Plan­ning in Prin­ci­pal, they could be said, by ob­servers bet­ter placed in the film in­dus­try than I, to have scup­pered one of the more ex­cit­ing propo­si­tions in re­cent years.

But if they do re­ject it – and they may have reser­va­tions that are rea­son­able – then what next? Other in­vestors are look­ing at Scot­land, in­clud­ing a plan nearer Ed­in­burgh air­port, but none are at the ad­vanced stage of the Pent­lands of­fer.

Per­haps the mooted sound stages in Cum­ber­nauld would have to suf­fice for Scot­land’s film in­dus­try. Is that enough?

There is a feel­ing that a reck­on­ing is due

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