Midlothian Film Studio graphic

Critics allege ‘serious irregularities’ with film studio application

Campaigners have called on the Scottish Government to reject a proposal for a major project near Edinburgh – including a film studio and power plant – alleging “serious irregularities” with the planning application while arguing it has not been subjected to proper public consultation.

Pentland Studios Limited (PSL) submitted plans to Midlothian Council in 2014 for an international television and film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh as part of a £138m mixed-use development at a 106 acre site in the Damhead greenbelt.

But critics of the plan claim that the project – if sanctioned –  could pave the way for a large biomass power station at the site even though this was not included in the original planning application.

PSL said no plans have been submitted for a major power plant and that critics of its proposal have made inaccurate claims.

Campaigning organisation Biofuelwatch claims  that a power station could bring noise pollution and have serious impact on air quality in Midlothian and the city of Edinburgh, potential issues which, the environmental group says, have not been acknowledged in any planning documents.

The widely reported film studio is just one part of PSL’s proposal for a mixed-used development which includes an education centre, student accommodation, a hotel, data hub and energy centre.

The planning application will be decided by Scottish Ministers, following an appeal against Midlothian Council’s failure to reach a decision within the statutory period.

According to Biofuelwatch, the original planning documents submitted by Pentland Studios Limited said the energy centre was “likely to be a gas-fired combined heat and power plant”.

But Biofuelwatch says that after Midlothian Council’s official consultation period had expired the developers submitted a Planning Issues Report which stated: “Detailed discussions are planned during August 2015 with a number of suppliers with the capability to own design and operate an Energy Centre designed to meet an output in excess of 60 MW (megawatt) with the potential for up to 100 MW.”

Although power stations above 50 MWe (megawatt electrical) capacity must be approved by the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit Biofuelwatch fears that the approval of PSL’s application and appeal, could allow the developers, or anybody else buying the land with planning consent, to build a biomass power station of up to 50 MWe capacity.

A biomass plant of that scale would – Biofuelwatch claims – have significant impact on air quality, traffic and noise, while requiring around half a million tonnes of wood a year.

Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch told The Ferret: “We believe that the Scottish Government must throw this planning appeal out because of serious irregularities.  At first, Pentland Studios Ltd, a company registered to operate art facilities, applied for permission to build a film studio with a small gas-fired combined heat and power plant (CHP) attached.

“Then, after the public consultation period ended, they changed their plan from a small gas CHP plant to a potentially large biomass power station, with no assessment of the impacts and no consultation whatsoever. And now, they insist that Pentland Studio Ltd’s name was put on the planning application by mistake and that the applicant was actually another company, PSL Land Ltd, which was set up for “buying and selling real estate”.”

Ernsting added that if an appeal was approved on this basis, it would make a “mockery of planning rules and set a very dangerous precedent”.

“No company must ever be allowed to slip major developments, such as a polluting power station, into a planning application without an impact assessment and without any consultation,” she added.

Several months later, the developers then submitted another “Energy Strategy Summary” document direct to the Scottish Government, apparently committing the firm to using gas and specifying a smaller plant.

Clare Symonds of Planning Democracy also expressed concerns over PSL’s application. She said: “Affected communities in Midlothian rightly point out that this controversial application is not just for a film studio, but also for a power plant, which has not been subject to the same levels of public consultation.

“More than this, details of the size and scale of this aspect of the development are apparently continuing to change after people’s opportunity to comment has passed. It’s hardly surprising if this leaves them feeling confused and frustrated.”

Symonds added that the Scottish Government must “uphold the right of communities to full and transparent consultation on planning issues of this importance”.

She continued: “Unfortunately people and communities across Scotland are wrestling with the inadequacies of  labyrinthine planning processes that don’t enable debate about the issues that really matter. We are campaigning so that the Scottish Government’s impending Planning Bill makes things fairer, rather than stacking the legal odds even further against vulnerable communities. Stronger regulation of developers and enactment of an equal right of appeal would help to restore the fading public trust in Scotland’s planning system.”

However, in response to the above criticism, PSL robustly defended its application and said critics had been disseminating false information over the issue.

A PSL spokeswoman said: “PSL is fully satisfied that all aspects of the planning application for the film studio at Straiton, currently under consideration by the reporter and Scottish Government ministers, not only adhere to the building, environmental and public health regulations required by law, they exceed these requirements in a quest to attain BREEAM excellence and to satisfy the film & tv industry’s extremely high demands for energy efficient and environmentally green studio space.

All details of the proposed low-carbon energy centre have been submitted to, and accepted by, the reporter, PSL continued, adding: “It is with regret that PSL must highlight the factual inaccuracies perpetuated across social media and to members of the public by local objectors, when all the correct facts and reports are available in the public domain on the DPEA website.”

“There is no ‘new evidence’ nor any planning application for a ‘major Power Plant’ as part of the film studio development application,” PSL said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers only received the report and recommendations from the independent reporter on the proposal for a mixed-use development near Straiton, which includes a film studio, at the end of December. Ministers will publish their decision in due course once the report has been fully considered.”

The planning application

Photo thanks to M J Richardson, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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