Tenants accused of bullying over revamp plan

Dot Horne says the SHBT's stance feels 'very threatening and bullying'. Picture: Esme Allen

Dot Horne says the SHBT's stance feels 'very threatening and bullying'. Picture: Esme Allen

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A CONSERVATION trust behind plans for a new history centre in the Royal Mile has been accused of “bullying” after it demanded a pioneering youth project be relocated.

A £6.5 million scheme to turn the 400-year-old Riddle’s Court, seen as one of the most important buildings in Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, into a learning centre is due to get under way later this year.

But the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) has written to the city council threatening to pull out of the project unless youth cafe 6VT is required to move out of the basement of the building, where it has operated for the past 20 years.

SHBT has a lease from the council on the top three floors of the building, entered from the Lawnmarket, but says it also needs 6VT’s premises, entered from Victoria Terrace, to house the reception area, cafe, kitchen and lift to make the project viable.

Trust chairman John Campbell QC said in a letter to the council: “If we cannot secure this project, for which my staff have raised over £5m in just over two years, we will hand it back, renounce the lease and leave you with the problem of an unsalable tenement.

“The downside is significant. Not the least of them will be the reluctance of the Heritage Lottery to fund anything else in the city.”

Dot Horne, founder and director of 6VT, said: “From day one they have wanted our part as a frontage, but the council told them 6VT was staying.

“Now the trust are saying they have a heritage lottery grant and we have to go. It feels very threatening and 
bullying. People are devastated at the position we are in.”

The issue is set to be discussed at the council’s policy and strategy committee on Tuesday.

Ms Horne said: “We’ve had a meeting with [council leader] Andrew Burns and the council wants to look at a positive solution for everyone.”

But she said the recommendation from officials was that 6VT should be told they must agree to leave or the lease would be terminated.

“We were told previously by the council that we could stay, but it seems the big boys with big money have managed to put some pressure on.”

SHBT director Una Richards said she could not comment on the claim the letter was “bullying”. She said: “We don’t have any issue with 6VT. They do a fantastic job. We have been working hard to find the right solution, but in order for the project to succeed we need the whole building.”

Tory education spokesman Jason Rust said he was concerned that one council tenant was seeking the removal of another.

He added: “6VT have had to endure a lot of uncertainty, which has been unsettling and diverted attention from the focus of the great work undertaken.

“I cannot imagine funders will be enamoured by a heavy handed approach to a group working with marginalised and vulnerable young people.”