Court ruling blow to Midlothian film studio plans

Green party campaigner Helen Blackburn with Jim Telfer at his farm at Old Pentland, site of the planned Pentland Film Studio
Green party campaigner Helen Blackburn with Jim Telfer at his farm at Old Pentland, site of the planned Pentland Film Studio

Plans for a film studio in Midlothian appear to be over after the Scottish Land Court today issued a ruling that a farmer’s landlord can not sell the land to the developer behind the £250 million project.

Jim Telfer faced eviction from smallholdings at Damhead where Scottish Ministers gave planning approval for a film studio in December last year.

Now the Scottish Land Court has found that the landlord has no lawful grounds to resume Mr Telfer’s tenancy.

It ruled that the application by the landlord to resume the whole of Smallholdings No. 1 and 2 on Pentland Mains Farm “should be refused for want of a reasonable purpose in relation to the good of the estate”. The Court observed that “this estate does not need a film studio”.

Nick Gibsone, co-owner of the Pentland Estate expressed his disappointment at the decision.

He said: “Our family is devastated by the Land Court’s decision, and its consequences for us.

“We are not by any means a wealthy family and the current estate is little more than 100 acres. We have spent five years trying to make the best of what we own and leave a lasting legacy that would be of benefit to the many, not the few. We had hoped to reach an amicable agreement with the smallholding tenant, Mr Telfer, within the provisions of smallholding law, which would have resulted in substantial compensation and this remains the case.

“This would also enable the developers to facilitate a project of national importance and make much-needed improvements to local land, in particular restoration of a site where thousands of tons of waste material had been left by a previous tenant.

“We are disappointed not only for ourselves, and the developers, but for Midlothian and Scotland with the loss of hundreds of potential jobs and the boost to the economy the film studio could deliver.

“Mr Telfer’s legal rights were fully respected throughout the legal process.

“The Land Court has not found that we did anything wrong and expressed sympathy for our position and for the consequences the decision will have for us and for the many others involved in the intended development.

“Other legal rights asserted by the tenant (most significantly rights to a secure 91 Act tenancy) were rejected by the Court.

“We must now consider all options, including appealing the Land Court’s decision to the Court of Session.”

However, the land court’s decision has been welcomed by Green MSPs Alison Johnstone and Andy Wightman who had supported Jim Telfer in his fight to stay at the farm, which has been in his family for generations.

In a joint statement Alison and Andy said:“We welcome this decision from the Scottish Land Court. It is clear that the landlord has no lawful grounds to resume Jim Telfer’s tenancy. Quite why the landlord, the developers and some voices within the Scottish film industry ignored the fact that a sitting tenant has legal rights that have now been upheld is for them to explain.

“We have been consistent in our support for our constituent throughout this process and hope that the stress and anxiety facing Jim and his family is now over. It is now incumbent on industry and the Scottish Government to deliver the much needed national film studio on a site where development would be lawful.”

A spokeswoman for Pentland Studios Limited, the group behind the plans, said: ““PSL Land Ltd are respectful however disappointed to learn of the Scottish Land Court’s ruling on 1 October regarding the Gibsone Trust, and are currently considering options for the PSL development.”