Plans for pioneering shared-ownership green community at historical Edinburgh farmhouse

A historical Edinburgh mansion that was rescued from demolition by residents could be at the centre of a pioneering co-housing development if new plans go ahead.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:00 am

Comiston Farmhouse, a large and imposing detached villa built in the 19th century, is set within an acre of ground on the city’s south side.

Most recently it was used as a social work department residential support unit for teenagers, until it closed in January 2015.

It was due to be sold to mainstream developers to be turned into housing.

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Comiston Farmhouse, a Victorian mansion on Edinburgh's south side, is back on the market after plans by a mainstream developer fell through

But the sale fell through following widespread local opposition to the builder’s plans and the property has been put back on the market by Edinburgh City Council.

Now the newly founded Comiston Co-Housing Group is getting set to bid for the premises, which it hopes to transform into a novel community of affordable and eco-friendly shared-ownership homes with communal facilities such as on-site work spaces, gardens, guest rooms and pool cars.

Co-housing schemes are popular in Scandinavia and other places in Europe, but Comiston would be the first scheme of its kind in Scotland if plans come to fruition.

The proposal is part of what its supporters view as “fundamental and badly needed change to how housing is delivered in Scotland”.

NHS mental health nurse Liz Murdoch is part of the newly formed Comiston Co-Housing Group, which has set out plans to create a novel shared-ownership community at the site

The group has set out its mission.

It states: “The dream is to create a diversity of house sizes and varying models of tenure to ensure affordability for all.

“The design will reflect a realistic balance between environmental efficiency and cost.

“The development will strive to have as low an ecological impact as possible; homes will be energy-efficient, we’ll minimise the use of cars, share facilities, grow food in a shared garden, and even generate our own energy.”

Jan Woolley is working with the co-housing group's bid to buy the historical farmhouse and hopes to one day live there

Liz Murdoch, an NHS mental health nurse, is working with the co-housing group and hopes to one day live in the new community.

She said: “Co-housing offers a way of living which, while offering each household an independent home unit, makes sharing more possible than in a conventional setting such as a tenement stair or district.

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“Sharing facilities with other residents, offering facilities to the local neighbourhood, some affordable housing provision and a spirit of innovation and environmental awareness will reduce social isolation as well as help to reduce global climate impact.”

Group member Jan Woolley, who is retired, is passionate about the concept and also wants to set up home at Comiston if the bid is successful.

“I am really excited at being part of the Comiston co-housing project,” she said.

“As a single and retired person the things I have valued most during lockdown are a communal outdoor space and good neighbours, and that's what co-housing offers.

“Instead of making friends with your neighbours you are making your friends into neighbours.

“Friendships are developed by working together with the simple ambition of creating an affordable and sustainable place to live.

“Houses should be for living in, not an investment for profit.

“Those who have upfront capital will support those that don't, but in the longer term everyone will have a share in the ownership of what we have built.”

The Comiston group is a spin-off of Co-housing in Southern Scotland (CHOISS).

Architect Dr Richard Atkins, who is working with CHOISS on the project, said: “Co-housing means people have their own homes – healthy, energy-efficient, accessible and stylish – but also access to shared areas to mix with other people when they choose.

“Co-housing addresses the financial, environmental challenges of modern living – focusing very much on affordable, sustainable living in attractive homes within friendly communities.

“This project will also return Comiston Farmhouse to being an asset to the local community and demonstrate that co-housing is affordable and replicable on a wide scale.”

Comiston Farmhouse is the only remaining early Victorian farmhouse in the south of Edinburgh.

Recent research has revealed drawings of the house dated 1859, and it is now considered likely they were by architect William Notman, who worked under William Henry Playfair

The closing date for bids is expected to fall at the end of this month.

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