John McLellan: Craighouse plans must be viable

An artist's impression of the revised plans for Craighouse. Picture: Craighouse Partnership
An artist's impression of the revised plans for Craighouse. Picture: Craighouse Partnership
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The bitter dispute over the future of Craighouse has entered what could be its final phase with the end of the public consultation before a decision is made at the start of September.

Bitter? Well, when the architect behind the latest scheme, who just happens to live across the road, is being shunned by some of his neighbours, you bet it’s getting bitter.

Although the deadline has passed for members of the public to have their say, community councils have been given extra time and tonight it’s the turn of Morningside CC to discuss the plans at St Peter’s Primary school.

Schooling is likely to be high on the list of concerns, given the long-running capacity problems faced by South Morningside Primary.

Whether the Craighouse development makes that much difference to the problem is moot; experience elsewhere suggests the majority of people moving into flat developments like this will be empty-nesters who have sold the family home. No-one in the city education department needs reminding of the urgent need for a long-term solution at South Morningside, and Craighouse makes no difference to that.

Opponents of the Craighouse plan will doubtless be out in force at St Peter’s tonight, and are lobbying hard to reject the scheme. The Merchiston neighbourhood watch scheme, by its own admission, is going way beyond its remit to point locals to the protest website. The Friends of Craighouse say they have an alternative and have distributed a brief, but in parts remarkably candid, document to attract support for a trust to fund some sort of community buy-out.

It states: “The funding required to even put together the vast range of technical documents required of a planning application has exhausted available private capital. In property business terms the site is now ‘toxic’. Therefore, a partnership model between agencies, the public, experts and future site users is the only viable model for the site.”

Given that even they cannot deny a viable commercial scheme is now before city planners, the argument here is that the only acceptable plan is theirs. It is at best wishful thinking and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead.

It goes on: “Before the site can be acquired, the Trust must determine a suitable valuation for the site in its current state as well as a strategy for its long-term use for a sensitive set of purposes. This needs to take into account the value of potential site uses, the ability of the Trust to raise funding, market conditions and the long-term viability of the Trust and the site.”

In other words, even though they say they have a plan, they don’t have a value, a strategy, or an explanation of how they will raise the money. And there is no indication how long all this will take. But most interestingly, the paper concedes: “The models of securing a long-term future for the site include renting out parts of the site or selling off parts of the site... selling off parts of the site enables funders to make a short-term return on investment as long as the new owners can provide a reasonable level of security for their part of the site.”

So even the Friends of Craighouse with their woolly sketch of an idea for the site are already prepared to sell off bits to fund their dream. Which bits? To whom? For what?

The answer is they don’t know, and even later admit: “The Trust, after acquiring the site, may not be able to find buyers or tenants for all individual parts of the site.”

And what about this for a contradiction? “Public and community funding would easily see an acceptable return on investment”, but then: “the development of listed buildings and preservation of grounds with extensive protected wildlife is subject to a great many financial risks, as well as other risks.”

So which is it to be, an easy return on investment or a great risk?

Given the backgrounds of the people behind this proposal, the presumption must be that they know what they are talking about, which makes the scant detail and confusion all the more surprising.

One is Andrew Richards, the chief executive of IT firm Codeplay Software Ltd, based on York Place. The other is Joe Frankel, founder and managing director of Vegware, a company which produces biodegradable packaging and tableware and is based on Polwarth Crescent. Until 2010 it was based at Craighouse Terrace.

The council is expected to rule on the application from the Craighouse Partnership and its developer Sundial on September 3. Before the community councils finally make their recommendations for this meeting, I suggest they subject the claims of the opponents to just a fraction of the scrutiny under which they will rightly place the Partnership plans.


Never mind what the developer or the opponents think about the Craighouse plan, what about Historic Scotland, the guardian of our heritage? Its submission to the city council could not be clearer:

“The listed buildings will retain their prominence, both within their immediate parkland setting, and in the wider city views of the site. In important views to and across the site, the open parkland character of the site is retained.

“The proposed refurbishment works for the listed buildings are sensitive, responsive and should secure the preservation of the special interest and value of the buildings. The proposed new development by way of their design, scale and location effect an acceptable level of change to the site without eroding its key characteristics, experience and understanding.

“From a Historic environment perspective the open parkland character of the site is retained, the hierarchy and relationship of the listed buildings maintained, and its uncertain future averted.”

So Historic Scotland believes the new buildings are well-designed, do not overshadow the listed buildings, the listed buildings will be saved and have a viable future and the open green spaces will be maintained. It hardly sounds like the rape of Edinburgh’s cultural landscape the Friends of Craighouse claim the scheme represents.

I suggest the members of Morningside Community Council study the response before tonight’s gathering.

Mark Turley’s departure leaves too many questions

The resignation of Edinburgh Council’s director of services for communities Mark Turley from Edinburgh City Council predictably leaves vital questions of public interest unanswered.

What really happened at Mortonhall in the baby ashes scandal? How did the circumstances arise for tragedy at Liberton High School? How will the building repairs disaster be resolved? In such a huge department as Mr Turley’s, there could be more skeletons in cupboards he might not know about even now. So Mr Turley has agreed terms of his departure and the investigation focusing on the conduct of his department is now no longer necessary? Well that’s all right then.

Again predictably, much comment has concentrated on the amount of his pay-off and whether the public has a right to know. That’s the easy bit. He is entitled to a pay-off because his notice period has to be honoured. And as appears likely given the short timescale and apparent lack of a disciplinary process, if he has been unfairly dismissed he is entitled to due compensation too. The rules are pretty simple; if you want rid of someone quickly you have to cough up.

Are we entitled to know how much he’s leaving with? It’s public money so too right we are. The amount might make people angry, the council might be embarrassed, but that is not a reason to withhold information. No, the real concern is not how much money or whether we can be told, it’s the other questions going unanswered about the way this city has been run.

Mark Turley undoubtedly has questions to answer but so too do plenty of other people, all the way to the office of chief executive Sue Bruce. She cannot wash her hands of all responsibility by dismissing senior colleagues when the heat is on. Nor can enforced departure be used as a means of shutting down the process of public accountability. We still don’t have adequate explanations about what went on at Mortonhall and Mark Turley’s departure makes that even less likely.

Will we ever find out the truth about what happened at Liberton? Or what really happened in the building maintenance department?

The councillors are our representatives in the City Chambers, not the City Chambers’ representatives in our communities. It is time for the councillors collectively to demand answers and for the truth to be revealed and that will require steel from Council leader Andrew Burns and his deputy Steve Cardownie.

And what about our MPs and MSPs, especially the latter on the Lothian list who don’t have to worry about day-to-day constituency matters? Someone can make a real name for themselves here.