Rosy Barnes: Wishing for sunshine amid grey skies over Craighouse

Opposition to plans to build on the historic Craighouse site is mounting. Here, campaigner Rosy Barnes tells why

By Rosy Barnes
Tuesday, 25th October 2011, 12:58 pm

I looked at my watch and glanced up at the sky. Ominous clouds hovered overhead. It had been raining all morning.

Oh! I had been a fool. To think that we could gather people at such short notice and expect them to give up their weekend to turn out on a cold, wet October Sunday. Nobody was coming.

And then I saw them. First in ones and twos. Then in groups. Then a stream of people descending on the site. Families with kids carrying banners saying “Save Our Orchard”, or one that made me smile that said “Save Our Sledging”. People with dogs, people in their 80s with walking aids, people in macs in case of rain, people with pushchairs. It was amazing.

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I shouldn’t have doubted. The local community were gathering at Craighouse to show just how much they loved this place. We were there to protest against proposals to build 110 new “dwellings”.

The proposed new development at Craighouse is one of the most significant to hit the city for years. The site comprises Grade A-listed buildings of a former hospital set dramatically against green woodland and a spectacular semi-natural park landscape.

The developers’ proposals include a three-storey build over its orchard, a huge development near Craighouse Road, the sweeping lawns turned into an expensive “landform sculpture” and a number of apartment blocks.

So what, you might say, it’s private. Get used to it.

But should it be?

Craighouse campus was a public institution, previously owned by the NHS. It was bought for Napier with public money and restored with yet more public money.

It has now been bought by Mountgrange Real Estate Opportunity Fund, a £300 million private investment fund, managed by Mountgrange, the company behind the failed Caltongate development.

Why should private companies gain from public subsidy? Why should the local community be deprived of green space? Let’s not forget this protected space is NOT by any means a brownfield site. It is a beauty spot.

Craighouse is a historic landmark on one of Edinburgh’s seven hills. Would they be allowed to build luxury flats across Arthur’s Seat? Or on Blackford Hill?

The Friends of Craighouse Grounds and Wood was formed to voice the community’s concerns.

William Gray Muir, speaking for the Craighouse Partnership, said in this newspaper that it is its intention to allow public access at the “highest possible level”, adding that it was “frustrating that people don’t believe us”.

I will tell him why people are worried – because of conflicting answers from the developer. No answers on existing rights of way, no explanation of what “highest level of access” means.

Most worrying of all, it has been stated by John Bury, the city’s head of planning, that the developers have “no obligation” to retain free access because, he claims, Craighouse campus has only been accessible since Napier took over the site in the 1990s.

Really? The Friends group has photographs of people using the site in the 70s and 80s. Two of the attendees told me they had been walking there for 50 years.

Indeed, the council’s own survey in 2007 identifies access as one of the most important things about the site.

But how, might you ask, can families waving placards compete with an International Investment Fund and the professional company employed to lobby politicians?

But we must try, because if a protected historic landscape such as Craighouse can be built over, I shudder at what this might mean for the rest of Edinburgh’s green spaces.

* Rosy Barnes is founder of the Friends of Craighouse Grounds and Wood