Is the film studio saga beginning its final episode?
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