Rosy Barnes: Don’t bulldoze through planning policy

An artist's impression of part of the planned Craighouse development
An artist's impression of part of the planned Craighouse development
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Craighouse is a spectacular site on one of Edinburgh’s seven hills – much loved and used by the community. Highly protected, it’s one of only eight sites of Great Landscape Value in the whole Edinburgh area (others include the Botanical Gardens and Arthur’s Seat).

Developer Mountgrange’s application to build around 178,000sq ft of development plus roads and 300-plus car parking spaces across this beautiful Nature Conservation Site provoked the largest amount of individual objections to a single housing application Edinburgh’s has seen.

John McLellan’s assertion in his column last week that cheap new build is needed to conserve the listed buildings needs careful examination. The example he uses as a model – Quartermile – should act as a warning. Whether or not you like the glass cubes and aluminium-clad blocks that now dominate the old Infirmary site – in terms of finance, Quartermile has been a disaster. The backer lost so much money on the new build that it had to be bailed out by the bank (to the tune of £100s of millions), which then had to be bailed out by the country. But it saved the listed buildings, right? Well, no. In fact, only around a quarter of the listed buildings were converted. One of the others was demolished and the rest have been left derelict. You can see them for yourself along Lauriston Road. Is this really a vision of “success” for Craighouse? To ruin a site of Great Landscape Value to save only 25 per cent of the buildings and let the rest go derelict?

This is why the finances at Craighouse MUST be released to full public scrutiny.

Sadly, despite two years of dereliction threats, Mountgrange have failed to release any proper financial information to support their claims. Their application, put in a year ago, was described as “factually incorrect” and “inaccurate” by the council. Their actions – getting the buildings put on the Buildings at Risk Register then using this to try and justify excessive new build, allowing water to run down Grade-A listed buildings – have done little to engender trust.

Their plans smash through all the policies and protections on the site, and yet it seems they have been putting pressure on the Scottish Government behind the scenes to bypass any refusal by the council.

We can only hope the Scottish Government see this for what it is and supports local MSPs Jim Eadie and Alison Johnstone, who have looked in detail at the situation and support the local community. So, what is the answer for Craighouse? We need to look at the facts, rather than the myths.

Craighouse has many alternative uses and buyers. There were six bidding teams and eight bids for the site and that was during a recession.

The Friends of Craighouse believe the answer lies in mixed use and is drawing up alternative business plans with the local community to show viability and sustainability – the villas alone would make stunning flats, with New Craig enjoying several possibilities as a hotel, conference centre or mixed arts and office use (all which would allow income through its lucrative wedding business).

There are also real viable alternatives with the retired flat market.

But to achieve a positive, sustainable future for Craighouse, that both protects the listed buildings and preserves the spectacular landscape setting, the site needs a responsible owner.

And the only way to achieve that is to stand up to Mountgrange and make them take responsibility.

The community, the council and the Government must refuse to allow this off-shore “vulture fund” to bulldoze through policies that protect our most precious places – otherwise it won’t just be Craighouse that suffers.

We must stand up for what’s special about this city. And Craighouse is about as special as it gets.

Rosy Barnes is founder of the Friends of Craighouse campaign group