CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep a historic garden in public hands have said they will need a “miracle” after its owners confirmed the site would be sold.
The warning comes after Oatridge College yesterday began accepting offers over £305,000 for Millbuies House and gardens, which was occupied until the end of last month by the Friends of Suntrap group.
It has also emerged that a city council appeal to the Scottish Government to keep the site in educational use has failed because its sale value is below £500,000 and does not require external approval.
The wider grounds at the site, known as Suntrap, have already been put up for sale by the National Trust for Scotland.
Friends of Suntrap, which wants to turn the house and gardens into a heritage and education centre, described the situation as “desperate”.
Isobel Lodge, secretary of Friends of Suntrap, said: “We’re looking for a miracle, really – things are not good.
“The owners seem hell-bent on getting rid of the site and it doesn’t seem like anything more from us will make any difference. They have not been willing to give us more time to raise the cash.
“We tried to get money from the Lottery but have been told that to qualify, we have to demonstrate we are meeting some concrete social need, such as creating employment.”
She added: “We have not given up hope and are still writing to people who have funds.”
The announcement that Oatridge has begun accepting offers for the Millbuies site has been attacked by councillors and political leaders.
Mike Crockart, MP for Edinburgh West, said: “It’s desperately disappointing news. Since Friends of Suntrap have been doing their utmost to get money together, I would have hoped that Oatridge and the National Trust would have chosen to work with them to get the best possible bid together rather than just cutting them loose.”
Ricky Henderson, Labour councillor for Pentland Hills, said: “I am extremely disappointed to hear that the sale is going ahead.
“In view of the site’s history, I would urge Oatridge to give preference to a purchaser willing to open both Suntrap and Millbuies to the public as a horticultural resource.”
Bosses at Oatridge College, however, defended the decision to sell.
Principal David James said: “Oatridge College has strived for many years to make the retention of Suntrap a viable economic proposition, but despite our best efforts in seeking financial support from a range of agencies, it has been and remains a drain on our limited resources.
“For the last two years we have allowed the Friends of Suntrap to use the site free of charge and have continued to pay for public utilities. This was done to give the campaigners time to produce a viable business plan.
“We have, however, always made it clear that we have a responsibility to ensure that any such business plan would produce best value for Oatridge College and the public purse.”