The City of Edinburgh Council has admitted it has not made money from film companies for street closures despite the disruption they cause, The Ferret can reveal.
In response to questions under freedom of information law, Edinburgh council disclosed that it recovered £152,000 from film companies for closing roads, restricting parking and managing traffic between 2012 and 2017. But the business was “revenue neutral rather than making a profit or loss”, it said.
The council was accused of being a “walkover” by the Scottish Conservatives, while the campaign group, Living Streets, argued that residents should be compensated for disruptions. The council, however, claimed that blockbuster films brought economic benefits to the city.
Edinburgh announced on 27 August that the city was “set for more big screen stardom” with four weeks of location filming for Fast and Furious 9 in the historic old and new towns. Some 800 crew members are involved and the film is due out next year staring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and others.
But the multiple road closures, including Waterloo Place, George Street, The Mound, Royal Mile, Chambers Street, George IV Bridge and many others, have upset residents. One, Dr Sally Witcher, branded the commuting delays caused as a “new form of torture” – and the city’s film office accepted that the filming was “a big ask for the city”.
Dear Fast and Furious, you are doubling my commute time. Ironically, now I only sit in traffic. When are you giving Edinburgh back?
— Joanne Bell (@Joannebell) September 3, 2019
It’s actually taking longer to get to work today than it did during the Festival. Waterloo Place closed for filming of #FastAndFurious so heavy flow of traffic diverted via East Noton Place which has roadworks. Can always rely on @Edinburgh_CC to screw things up. #fail
— Líam Rudden 💙🧢 (@LiamRudden) September 2, 2019
Scotland has seen increased interest from filmmakers in recent years, leading top executives attending the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to claim that Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, was in the middle of a film boom.
The Ferret revealed in November 2018 that Glasgow City Council was paid less than £35,000 over five years by film companies for numerous street closures and location shooting.
In 2012, Glasgow closed roads for the filming of Fast & Furious 6 over 26 days. While the film had an estimated $160 million budget and grossed a cumulative $788,679,850 worldwide, the council received just £8,372 from filming revenue in 2012.
Edinburgh council explained the position on income from road closures for filming in an email to The Ferret on 18 July. The council’s road services and transport team said that “the amounts charged/recovered for road services are revenue neutral rather than making a profit or a loss.”
The council added: “Whilst we used to provide additional roads services such as erecting barriers etc then recharging any costs in full, we no longer offer such additional services.”
The Scottish Tories’ shadow culture secretary, Rachael Hamilton MSP, has urged councils to calculate the costs of disruption and up their rates to compensate taxpayers. It was “naïve and irresponsible” for Edinburgh council not to charge “significant sums” for these productions,” she said.
“The SNP and Labour administration should be fleecing these firms for all they can, instead of allowing the capital to be a walkover. Of course, this negligence means there’s even more pressure on council budgets – and it’s council taxpayers who have to pick up that slack.”
Living Streets Scotland called on the council to “urgently rethink how residents are involved in consultations” on how public space is used.
“Closing 52 streets for filming is a big ask for any city, especially for Edinburgh which has only just got its streets back after the Fringe,” said the walking charity’s director, Stuart Hay.
“Streets are public spaces and they should be open and accessible for everyone to use. If access is being restricted for private use like this, then the income accrued from it should be invested in making much needed improvements to our public realm afterwards.”
Hay added: “Councils should also be looking at how the income is used to compensate residents for disruptions.”
Edinburgh council stressed that the 52 streets would not all be closed at the same time and that most closures would only be for short periods. Pedestrian access would be maintained for all but a few streets.
The council charges set fees for all of its road services, whether these are for events, filming, construction or any other use. Those seeking traffic regulation road closure are charged £475 for the provision of a temporary traffic regulation notice for up to five days, or £639 exceeding five days, plus advertising costs.
It is a source of real pride that the beauty of Edinburgh attracts these kinds of projects. Councillor Cammy Day, City of Edinburgh Council
Labour councillor Cammy Day, the city council’s depute leader, welcomed filming in the city “for the economic benefit, employment opportunities and the on-screen promotion it brings.”
He said: “It is a source of real pride that the beauty of Edinburgh attracts these kinds of projects.”
Day referred to the council’s Filming Charter, which details the local authority’s commitments to facilitate filming in the city, and the Code of Practice for Filmmakers, which “confirms the need for filmmakers to engage with the community in which they intend to work.”
He added: “We are responsible for public streets, but we ask that filmmakers engage with all residents and businesses within the area in which they plan to film, to ensure that life can continue with as little disruption as possible.”