Group disappointed after council rejects bid to turn historic Edinburgh mansion into co-housing

A community group has vowed to appeal after the council rejected its bid to turn a historic Edinburgh mansion into a pioneering co-housing development.
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Comiston Co-Housing Group said they are ‘deeply disappointed’ after the council claimed their bid to buy Comiston Farmhouse would see the market value of the property drop by 26 per cent.

Housing officers have recommended Burgh Developments Ltd, a private company, as the preferred bidder to purchase the villa on the city's south side which was previously rescued from demolition by residents.

Private developer tops list of bids for the Victorian mansion on the SouthsidePrivate developer tops list of bids for the Victorian mansion on the Southside
Private developer tops list of bids for the Victorian mansion on the Southside
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The profits from the sale will be part of the Council Capital Investment Strategy, which has a funding gap of around £172m.

Under plans by the co-housing group the 19th century building would be transformed into affordable and eco-friendly shared-ownership homes with communal facilities such as on-site gardens.

It would be the first ever scheme of its kind to get off the ground in Scotland and has won wide-ranging support after community consultation.

In a report to the finance and resources committee officers claimed that the group’s proposals would be ‘subject to risk’, citing additional potential deductions for adverse ground conditions or repairs due to the condition of the farmhouse.

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The proposals were considered along with other for-profit competitors, after their initial bid for a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) was rejected on grounds that the property had been marketed previously.

But the group claims the figures are misleading and accused the council of overlooking the community and environmental benefits of their plans.

A spokesperson said: “If you look at the bare figures, the difference between the bids is small in terms of the hole in their capital investment budget.

"We believe they have overlooked the value of our plans, particularly the wider community and environmental benefits. As well as flats we would make the building sustainable and invest in creating a community space. People told us there’s clear demand for it in the area. The value of that could be as much as £400k.”

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"We have raised funds to pay for an architect, quantity surveyor and project manager. The council said our bid could result in additional costs for moving the culvert on site, which is not shown on the design plan in the papers submitted to the committee. But we have a plan configured to avoid the need for the culvert removal. It seems the decision is based more on bottom line, rather than full consideration of what the community wants and would benefit from. It’s deeply disappointing and we hope they will reconsider.”

The large detached villa set within an acre of ground north of Pentland Drive was most used as a residential support unit for teenagers, until it closed in January 2015.

The council was forced to backtrack on its sale in 2015 after a developer submitted plans to knock down the mansion and turn the site into 37 flats, sparking an outcry from the local community.

A second developer was approved in 2018 but withdrew from the sale following covid-19 delays to planning permission. The property was put back on the market in November 2020 and went to closing in June 2021 with 14 bids.

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A council spokesperson, said: "A decision on the successful bid for the property will be taken at the Finance and Resources Committee on Thursday.”

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