A Studio for Scotland – It’s got to be Gartcosh by Mike Kelt

As the EKOS report on the proposed new film and drama space reports ‘a clear and present opportunity’ Mike Kelt, CEO of Artem and UK Screen Director, sums up progress to date and asks if politics and commercial wrangling over location will further delay this essential development.

The EKOS report was published in March by Scottish Enterprise following a long consultation with industry luminaries, architects, engineers and accountants, into the feasibility of a new studio and associated production space in Scotland. It comes after a number of failed attempts over the last 30 plus years to try and address the issue, all of which have failed for a number of different reasons, including restrictive planning, wrong location, and lack of finance. However in the light of recent changes to the film and TV tax credit system, and thus the increased interest in high end TV inward investment production work from abroad, in effect from the USA, (The current production of ‘Outlander’ near Cumbernauld is a result of this tax initiative), and the loss of Games of Thrones a few years ago to Northern Ireland, the penny has finally dropped within the Scottish Government - something has to be done. The fact that possible independence is round the corner may also have helped!

The report concluded that there was ‘a clear and present opportunity for a studio facility in Scotland’, bearing in mind the ‘strong growth in internationally mobile production’, the extension of the UK Tax incentives, and the current shortage of available studio space in the UK generally. Scotland currently has no dedicated film and TV studio, (other than that within the BBC), and relies on empty warehouses!

It also concluded that building a studio on its own would not be enough, but that to fully capitalise on any opportunity the Scottish Government and its Agencies should work more closely together and deliver ‘a consistent and responsive means of supporting indigenous and incoming mobile productions’ as well as increasing the skill base available through training initiatives.

In its deliberations on the financial viability of such a project it recognised the market failure caused through uncertainly and the initial capital costs, and recognised the need for public sector support to make the studio a reality. The level of this support was not clear but seemed to suggest something in the area of £15-20m. If no private investors were forthcoming then the report concluded that the public sector should build a scaled down ‘foundation’ studio, but look for private management to run it. Issues around EU state aid rules were highlighted, and need to be looked into further.

In order for things to progress the report suggested a 2 path route ahead; both to run in parallel. The 100% publicly financed option should be ‘appraised in depth’, alongside an invitation to the private sector to gauge the level of serious interest in a partnered solution.

It recommended that the studio complex should be built within easy reach of the main crew base to the west of the Central Belt, around Glasgow, listing a number of illustrative possibilities and saying the final site should have good transport links, including by air. It stopped short of recommending a final location, but did indicate that the site should allow for expansion, and if possible a ‘back-lot’ for exterior filming.

Of course this is where the trouble could really start! With various political and commercial factions pushing for their own piece of the action the whole project could be delayed by indecision and in-fighting, when what is needed is a clear coming together of the industry to back the obvious solution. It is mentioned in the report, but not given sufficient emphasis. So here it is…

On the outskirts of the east of Glasgow at Gartcosh there used to exist a large steelworks, long since demolished. The site is approx. 100acres with views of grassland and trees. It has its own motorway junction connecting to 3 different motorways, its own railway station connecting to Glasgow and Edinburgh, its own connection to the power grid, presumably from the days of the steelworks, and as much expansion and back-lot potential as one could wish for. If it were not for politics (small ‘p’) it would be a no-brainer.

It will be interesting to see whether the nettle is at last grasped, or the opportunity is smothered by inaction and lack of vision.

The EKOS report in full is available here.