The Craighouse application was this week passed in a sometimes heated city council meeting. Feelings ran high for community bodies, politicians, individuals and not least the developers and investors for whom this represented a third application after some four years of discussions, proposals and engagement. This is not unusual but the difference is that the outcome of Wednesday’s vote may well have implications far beyond the former Napier campus.
Without examining the particular merits of the Craighouse case it is important to recognise a major part of the applicants’ proposals involved in the concept of enabling development. This is where in order to support the rejuvenation of a listed building a new development is added in order to achieve economic viability. On their own, the argument runs, the redevelopment of the listed building(s) would not make an economic return.
The precedent of Edinburgh’s Craighouse decision may therefore prove to be a key consideration in assessing redevelopment proposals across Scotland where listed buildings face a similar dilemma of renewing the old but needing the new to be viable. I suspect it is rarely a cut and dried decision for the authority involved.
Our older buildings are a tremendous asset. It is right every application to change their use is considered carefully. As it happens I have the privilege of seeing the excellent work of Sundial on a daily basis (from my own office) as they reconvert 23 Rutland Square for return to use as a home – hopefully this may reassure some of the opponents of Craighouse on the grounds of quality at least. Ultimately, one of the worst fates to befall a former great building is where it fails to find a new purpose, as has happened to Bangour Village in West Lothian. Over time such a scenario will make its eventual resurgence more difficult.
Emotions will often run high, but we must not overlook the importance of using enabling development, where appropriate, as a means of attracting and securing investment. After all Mountgrange had no obligation to invest in Edinburgh. If we wish to preserve our listed properties we will have to be innovative. But one thing we must avoid at all costs is for Edinburgh to be perceived as a place where investment is not welcome.
David Melhuish is director of the Scottish Property Federation, a trade body dedicated to the interests of the real estate industry in Scotland.