Fury as developers flatten Portobello garden

Devastated volunteers worked hard to create the garden only to see it razed to the ground without, they say, any warning. Picture: Toby Williams
Devastated volunteers worked hard to create the garden only to see it razed to the ground without, they say, any warning. Picture: Toby Williams
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IT was a symbol of community spirit – a barren scrap of wasteland transformed into a much-loved neighbourhood garden.

But more than six months of sweat creating an urban oasis in Portobello was shattered last week when developers flattened it “without warning”.

The gap-site garden – boasting red-brick planters and a handmade pizza oven – was set to become an alfresco cinema this summer under radical plans dreamt up by resourceful local families.

However, a demolition team steamrollered over months of painstaking work carried out by the band of devoted volunteers behind the project in seconds – and the landowner won’t explain why. The “Electric Bungalow Community Garden” – named after the cinema which used to occupy the Bath Street site – was founded last October on an alleged verbal agreement with a developer and has seen a patch of scrubland revamped into an outdoor community hub. It is thought the plot had lain derelict for up to 15 years.

Developers claim a warning email was sent – but the garden group claims that it was never received.

Mother-of-two Melissa McConnell, who lives nearby, said the breakneck demolition was an act of “wanton destruction”. She said: “I left my house to collect my kids and could not believe my eyes – the whole garden had been razed to the ground. I actually thought I was dreaming. All our work was scooped up in a corner of the plot. The community is in shock.”

The garden team said – had they been given notice – they would happily have removed the plants and furnishings they’d carefully selected and introduced to beautify the spot.

Mrs McConnell added: “Everyone is horrified. Anyone going into that garden would have seen that it was a previously unloved and neglected space and some people had clubbed together, put a lot of time and effort into looking after it and made it a nice area for the community to use. Then they just steamrollered right over it.”

One of the key architects behind the garden, Eve 
Parsons, said she was “angry and frustrated” at being kept in the dark about the bulldozing.

“I have been really upset and disappointed and now we are trying to work out what happened,” she said. “I think their behaviour is really cowardly. “They said they tried to contact us and copied in their lawyer but we’ve had nothing in our inbox.”

Ms Parsons, 27, said she believed the landowner was on the verge of selling the plot and had a “knee-jerk reaction and didn’t want us to slow the sale down”.

Eric Muirhead, a spokesman for housing developer Home and Green East said there was “no malice” in the demolition and that six days’ notice had been given. He also said the group didn’t have permission to be on the site. “We sent an email and no one responded. We can’t hang about [so] we cracked on,” he said.