‘Stitch-up’ claim over Edinburgh Sick Kids sale

The Sick Kids' Hospital site is up for sale.
The Sick Kids' Hospital site is up for sale.
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MILLIONAIRE Robert McDowell is threatening legal action against NHS Lothian over what he calls a “stitch-up” on the sale of the Sick Kids Hospital site.

The founder of the Summerhall arts venue has been told that his bid to turn the hospital into a gallery of children’s art had been rejected.

There was a plan to include a Festival museum. Picture; Greg Macvean

There was a plan to include a Festival museum. Picture; Greg Macvean

Health bosses have now drawn up a shortlist of potential purchasers for the site, which is due to be vacated next year when the Sick Kids moves to a new base next to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at Little France. It is widely expected to go for housing development.

But Mr McDowell is angry that the future of a prime public asset is being decided without open debate.

He said: “They have rejected my offer but said they wouldn’t give any reason until after the final bidder is chosen. That might be reasonable if it was a private sector asset being sold, but it is totally unreasonable and patently wrong when it’s a public sector asset and particularly one of such importance.

“My view is the whole thing has been a stitch-up in order to keep the thing only to the usual suspects.

Robert McDowell at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland awards. Picture: Phil Wilkinson / TSPL

Robert McDowell at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland awards. Picture: Phil Wilkinson / TSPL

“Some of these usual suspects are good friends of mine and have said to me they completely respect or even admire our bid while they are just going through the usual motions of what is normal business and it’s not because what they are proposing is the best solution.

“This is a public interest matter. The public and politicians need to be informed and there needs to be discussion.”

A gallery of children’s art is the centrepiece of Mr McDowell’s proposal, but he would also include a Festival museum and space for artists and creative industry start-up businesses.

He said: “Although they have not told me why our bid was rejected, I have a good suspicion why. In the position statement by the NHS they attempt to interpret city council requirements which include one that for large sites at least half the site has to be private residential development. If that had been in place in 2011 we wouldn’t have Summerhall.

“But it’s wrong for the NHS or their agents to try to second guess what the planning process may or may not decide. Rulings like that can always be discussed.”

Mr McDowell said: “I will take legal action against the agents, against the NHS, and I will do my damnedest to stop this process in its tracks unless I get proper reassurance.

“And I’m calling on politicians at all levels to do their own checking to see whether they think how this is being done is proper when we’re talking about public sector assets.”

“It seems decisions are being railroaded through by people who think property interests and short-term profit-making should be the over-riding consideration.”

Susan Goldsmith, director of finance at NHS Lothian, said: “We understand it is always disappointing for bidders who have been unsuccessful. Detailed feedback will be provided in due course.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com