Rosy Barnes: Craighouse verdict will set benchmark

Opponents say the Craighouse plans are 'excessive' . Picture: Alex Hewitt
Opponents say the Craighouse plans are 'excessive' . Picture: Alex Hewitt
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Tomorrow is decision day for Craighouse. Off-shore speculator Mountgrange’s plans for Craighouse go against nearly every policy and protection in the book. If councillors vote it through, it will signal open day on some of the city’s most precious places.

What is proposed is excessive, six development sites of up to six storeys – more than all the listed buildings put together – with ugly boxy “luxury” apartment blocks.

The planners’ report to councillors recommends approval. Yet the report is hardly glowing, saying “the existing unique character of one of Edinburgh’s seven hills will be diminished”, with “significant detrimental impact on the character and views of the [Area of Great Landscape Value]”. With a flood report showing the developer has no solution to major flooding issues and warnings from road experts brought in by the council of danger to children and pedestrians, for the officials to recommend approval in light of all this is not just incompetent, but negligent.

Yet still Mountgrange have failed to prove their plans are an absolute last resort and the ONLY way to retain the listed buildings, as they must for it to be an Enabling Development (because Enabling Developments suffer from high degrees of risk and failure). This is because there are plenty of viable alternatives without need of excessive new build, as proved by the many other bidders. For Mountgrange, excessive new build was the first and only idea. No alternatives have been seriously explored.

But there is another way. The new Community Empowerment Bill paves the way for a more inspiring approach. The Craighouse Community Plan, backed by local people, businesspeople and experts, would protect the green space and woodland by putting it into a trust for future generations and creates a sustainable income stream for the maintenance of the listed buildings, along with better, long-term jobs.

Far from being the “problem” presented by Mountgrange, the wonderful listed buildings become the beating heart of the community plan. By considering New Craig, the largest building on the site, as a potential source of revenue rather than just packaging it off for luxury apartments (and demanding extra subsidy of excessive new build to do so), the community plan is able to generate MORE economic growth and maximise the value of the buildings. This frees up the buildings for an exciting mix of suitable uses including weddings and events, cafes, hospitality, creative industries, therapeutic uses, along with residential in the smaller villas. There’s even opportunities to improve council service provision. Businesses and organisations are keen to get involved in what will be one of the most exciting and prestigious conversions of listed buildings in the city. All are deeply excited about the possibilities of working with the community. Why? Because these are the kinds of organisations that would actively welcome the community using the site.

How we treat Craighouse will become a benchmark for our really precious sites, setting the standard in Edinburgh for years to come. Do we want that benchmark to be allowing off-shore funds to smash through protections by holding the city’s most precious sites to ransom? Craighouse could be a real Edinburgh flagship – something truly inspirational for the whole city. The community remain hopeful that the city’s councillors will have the vision tomorrow to stand up for what’s special about our city and demand better for this beautiful Edinburgh gem.

Rosy Barnes is founder of the Friends of Craighouse campaign group