It's high noon for Scots Hollywood

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It's high noon for Scots Hollywood
« on: February 15, 2004, 12:41:07 »
It's high noon for Scots Hollywood

AMBITIOUS plans to bring a taste of Hollywood glamour to Scotland have sparked a revolt in the tiny community that will neighbour on the controversial project.

A Glasgow businessman has submitted a scheme for a £250m national film studio in rural Perthshire that would attract big-budget films and big-name actors.

But the 300 residents of Aberuthven are far from star-struck. They fear the studio with its plans for a timeshare and new housing will quadruple the size of the community and ruin their tranquil way of life.

Aberuthven believed it had seen off Toni Antoniou’s grand scheme after his original plan to call the studio complex Gleneagles was opposed by the nearby hotel of the same name, which fought a successful battle against the name’s use in the Court of Session.

Antoniou has scaled down his plan, renamed his vision the Strathearn Film Studio Project, and resubmitted it to planners. He is now campaigning to win over locals by stressing the economic benefits to the area of having a major film studio.

The early signs are not good. Yesterday, anti-studio campaigners Aberuthven Community Threatened (ACT) mounted a protest in a neighbouring village. This evening , ACT is due to hold a "council of war" in the village hall to drum up support for a new planning battle.

"If anything, the strength of the opposition will be even greater this time round," said Julia Hubbard, ACT’s former chairman. "We are not against progress in Scotland but we are not happy with an 800-acre development in the heart of the countryside and tacked on to a wee village of 120 houses."

At the heart of the plan is an attempt to build a 14-stage studio complex of high enough quality to attract international film-makers to Scotland. But it is the related developments on the site, just off the A9 south of Perth, that are needed to finance the studios, which have brought a local revolt.

The original plan also envisaged 500 luxury houses, a 200-bed, five-star hotel, a casino, a private country club and two golf courses in what is largely a rural area.

Although the housing plans have been scaled down by almost half and the casino dropped, protestors claim the scale of the project will still overwhelm the rural character of the area.

They also suspect that the film studio is simply a smokescreen.

"We are concerned that the luxury houses will go ahead but the rest of the plans will fall by the wayside," Hubbard said.

If the plan gains approval, the huge, glass-fronted film studio complex will be aimed at capturing a slice of the global £60bn-a-year international movie-making market.

Antoniou is convinced he can bring Hollywood-style productions to Scotland. He says the studios will be built by a privately-financed consortium with no call on public money and would bring around 1,000 temporary and permanent jobs into the area.

As well as 14 sound stages, there will be dressing rooms, workshops, a film museum, preview cinema, exhibition space and a restaurant. Film-makers and technicians working on all aspects of film-making, including production staff, technical services, actors and editors, would be able to stay in the hotel and time share cottages.

Antoniou, a management consultant who runs a company called Quillco100, which has an option to buy the site, said he had spent the past six months consulting with planning officials, government agencies and the local community to make the plans acceptable to all.

"Some people in the area believe the studio is a ’Trojan Horse’ development for the housing. It is not. I want Scotland to have the facilities to attract the best film-makers in the world f and bring all the benefits that entails to the local community."

At one time Lord Attenborough, one of Britain’s most respected film-makers, was said to be backing the project, he later made it clear he was not linked to it in any way. The company is still claiming that Scots actor Brian Cox is a supporter. Cox, now filming in Berlin, was unavailable for comment.

Government agencies have also done little to support the Perthshire plans. Scottish Enterprise ruled in 2002 that proposals to build a national film studio were not commercially-viable following a lengthy study. The agency is currently considering financial support for a smaller production studio, in which TV and commercials could be filmed, in Glasgow.

Scottish Screen, the agency which provides film funding, said it had no plans to back any studio.

FAILING THE SCREEN TEST

SEVERAL business consortiums have announced plans to build top-quality film studios in Scotland.

Ambitious proposals were put forward in 1997 to build a studio complex at Hermiston Gait near Edinburgh airport. It had the backing of Sir Sean Connery (right), businessman David Murray, then Rangers FC chairman, and entertainment giant Sony.

The £90m project also had the key backing of Edinburgh financier Sir Angus Grossart, but was vetoed by Edinburgh City Council on the grounds of being in the green belt.

A much smaller project to construct an £11m Highland Studios complex at Milton of Leys, just south of Inverness was granted planning permission in May 2002, but since then there has been little progress, despite chairman Roy Davis’s insistence this month that it would open this year.

A third project is a £10m studio, which could be built under the Erskine Bridge west of Glasgow. MTP, which produces around 80% of Scotland’s TV commercials, is waiting to learn if it has Scottish Enterprise’s support.