Traders hope law will stop rot in derelict shop

Peter Ritchie, owner of the neighbouring Bookworm, by the eyesore site. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Peter Ritchie, owner of the neighbouring Bookworm, by the eyesore site. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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TRADERS are pinning their hopes on planned changes to the law in their bid to see action taken over a derelict shop left to rot for 17 years.

The shop in Dalkeith Road, last used as a campaign station for the Liberal Democrats during the 1997 elections, was abandoned when its owner fled owing thousands of pounds in business rates and repair bills.

Despite going as far as hiring a private detective, neighbours have been unable to track down the owner of the eyesore site.

Now they are giving their backing to the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill, which they believe will finally allow the council to take action.

Edinburgh’s unique rules regarding statutory repairs mean neighbouring traders would have to foot the estimated £80,000 bill for refurbishing the unit and repairing the dry rot.

The bill – currently going through parliament – would let communities have a greater say in how their areas are shaped. It would also give councils the power to “recover the costs of dealing with dangerous and defective buildings”.

Peter Ritchie, 62, who has run the Bookworm store in Dalkeith Road for 27 years, said: “Small local businesses like ours are the lifeblood of the economy and make a positive impact on the community, but the whole tone of the street is being brought down by this eyesore, and the dry rot is spreading.

“It’s ridiculous that the council are powerless to do anything about this, the whole situation has been a nightmare for everyone on the street. I hope that the Scottish Government will use the opportunity of the Community Empowerment Bill to help me and others in my position.”

The traders have enlisted the help of Southside/Newington ward councillor Jim Orr, who has submitted their views to the Bill’s consultation, which closed on Friday.

Cllr Orr said: “I have great sympathy for the affected residents and have worked tirelessly to find out whether the council has powers to help them. The Community Empowerment Bill provides a potential opportunity to strengthen the powers of local authorities to help residents. I have made a formal submission to the Community Empowerment Bill, on behalf of those affected in this case.

“I urge MSPs to use this precious opportunity to find a way of dealing with derelict properties such that they can be returned to their intended use without adverse consequences for neighbours.

“In particular, I want them to examine whether CPO powers could to be extended to derelict shops such that councils have the power to take on derelict properties and use or sell them.”

In 2010, as it asked neighbouring owners to foot the bill, the city council said the deterioration of the shop was at “such an advanced stage that it is now threatening the structural integrity of the whole building”.

Asked why no action had been taken since, a council spokesman said the authority was “powerless to intervene”.