Commercial lobbying ethics and responsibilities, why the industry needs proper regulation

Today, the Scottish Parliament will debate the regulation of the lobbying industry. Unethical lobbying leads to bad government. By providing inaccurate or untrue information to officials or politicians, bad decisions are made. It also locks communities and the public out of decisions because commercial lobbyists have disproportionate access and may make inaccurate claims which are not publicly known and therefore cannot be challenged.

But also, commercial lobbyists allow companies to hide their own actions. By acting as intermediaries, lobbyists can do and say things that otherwise reputable companies could not. With Craighouse, we have a commercial lobbyist claiming to be “ethical”, while acting for a different lobbyist whose ethics have been widely challenged, including in the House of Commons. But there is so much hidden and unclear, that we can’t even get a straight answer to which lobbying company works on Craighouse and who their client is. When a lobbyist says something, who are they saying it on behalf of and who takes responsibility? With Craighouse, finding this out gets very complicated very fast. For example, Napier University holds a financial interest in the Craighouse site, yet insists the lobbyist for the project is not acting on their behalf. But Invicta PA say they work for all of the Craighouse Partnership, which would include Napier. Napier University will financially benefit from this lobbyist’s activities, yet takes no responsibility for what the lobbyist says or does.

We have personally experienced unethical lobbying in the Craighouse campaign. Consider a recent example. Just before the Craighouse Hearing an email was sent by Neil Cuthbert – a lobbyist for the developer – to politicians and senior officials which included text that he claimed to be an email written by Rosy Barnes of Friends of Craighouse but with a large amount of text that she had not written. We have been asking for a correction for over 2 months. To our knowledge, no correction has been issued to the people who were sent this incorrect email and the lobbyist has rudely ignored these requests. Only yesterday did we receive the vague admission that the lobbyist is “prepared to accept” that the email may have been written by “someone else” – but he has still not apologised or offered to issue any sort of correction despite being told repeatedly in writing that the text in question was not written by Rosy.

It’s not the first time that the Craighouse lobbyists have made untrue claims about things we have said. Lobbyists have constant access to officials and politicians. How can we have proper democratic engagement when lobbyists, who also help fund party conferences, sponsor events and visit politicians are making untrue claims about what the public or community groups say? How much more is being said behind closed doors that the public never get to know?

At the start of the Craighouse project, the lobbyist was Invicta PA, a company that has continued to be the subject of repeated allegations of unethical conduct. Later on, one of Invicta PA’s employees who had been working on Craighouse, Neil Cuthbert, started a new “ethical” lobbying company, with much publicity. This new “ethical” company would be a co-operative; it would publish a list of its clients monthly, and it would publish its meetings with politicians. We asked Neil Cuthbert where they publish this information and received no answer. We gave him several opportunities to answer, but he side-stepped the questions.

There is a record in the main UK lobbyist register for Neil Cuthbert himself. He lists his employer as his Public Affairs Co-operative company and while working for his company, he lists he has 3 clients, one of which is Invicta PA. A lobbying company having as a client another lobbying company is not an open and transparent declaration of your clients and allows who is working for whom to remain hidden. And what does it mean for a lobbying company to claim it is “ethical”, if its main client is a lobbyist that doesn’t commit to those same ethical standards?

We asked Invicta PA’s Director, Mark Cummings, to explain the email where Neil Cuthbert attributes text as an email from Rosy which she has never written. He answered “This is a matter for both parties to resolve privately. It is not a matter of concern for Invicta or our client”. But Neil Cuthbert used an Invicta PA email address. It was also clearly sent just before the Craighouse planning hearing when Neil was working for Invicta on Craighouse – so how is it not a matter of concern for Invicta?

Not only are companies using lobbyists to side-step their responsibilities – lobbyists can use networks of companies to deny responsibility for their own actions. It helps them reduce the risk of the legal threats that they themselves use against communities. There is no way of complaining about lobbyists circulating untrue information, knowing where it has gone or getting it corrected. There is no external body or regulator to complain to. And yet such actions are impacting on important decisions every day.

The Scottish Parliament must regulate commercial lobbying to defend democracy in this country. Regulation of commercial lobbying of both politicians and officials is required. There should be no place for hiding responsibility through networks of companies. All lobbying ethical standards must be regulated by law, otherwise these standards are meaningless.

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Another Mountgrange company financially collapses

This month, another Mountgrange company collapsed financially. Mountgrange UK Ltd was put into voluntary liquidation because “it has been proved to the satisfaction of this meeting that the Company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business”. Duff and Phelps have been appointed as liquidators to wind up the company.

Creditors have until 2nd November 2014 to come forward with evidence of claims.

This particular company does not own Craighouse, so does not directly affect the ownership of the Craighouse site. The site itself is owned by an offshore investment fund, with Napier University having a financial interest in the site, too. Mountgrange UK Ltd was the company that funded the management company (Mountgrange Investment Management LLP) to raise the funds to buy sites like Craighouse in the first place. Neither the fund, nor its management company has been placed into any insolvency procedure.

The liquidators will often produce a report saying how they will wind up the company. We will provide updates as and when further information is available on what impact this may have (if any) on Craighouse.

A previous Mountgrange company, Mountgrange Capital Plc had collapsed financially soon after planning consent had been granted for the highly controversial Caltongate scheme in the hear of Edinburgh.

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What next for Craighouse?

Our local politicians have failed to convince those in their own parties in power that they should support the community and not an off-shore tax-avoiding property speculator. They have failed to ensure that officials follow their own planning rules, policies and regulations. So what is next?

We have been told by the officials that our only option is Judicial Review, i.e., taking the decision to court. So many rules were broken in this case that we have an abundance of options for judicial review. We are working through the process of legal advice and have started fundraising for a full legal process.

Craighouse has achieved possibly the highest ever level of public engagement in a planning application in Scottish history. Thousands of people wrote in to planners and politicians urging them to do better for Edinburgh’s Seven Hills. Local politicians and community councils supported the community. National and local organizations supported the community in its desire to protect a beautiful site and its wildlife. But thousands of voters, experts, rafts of policies, rules and regulations is seemingly no match for millions of pounds of untaxed investment and the commercial lobbying that supports it.

The system was massively stacked against the community, with lobbyists and the developer having easy access to the planning committee and the public mostly shut out. The planning committee were presented with one-sided and inaccurate information by both the developer and by officials.

Over the next few weeks we will be writing up how the commercial lobbying system worked, with some examples. We will be highlighting how little the political system regulates lobbyists and how it hides the extent to which it depends on commercial lobbying to fund parties. And we will show how commercial lobbyists get access treatment to politicians, while communities are banned from talking to most politicians.

We will also be writing up the inaccurate information presented to the planning committee, by both developer and officials. And also highlighting how much secret information was presented to the planning committee away from public scrutiny.

This, we hope, will help future campaigners deliver real political reform in this country. Ensuring communities have greater power over their environment and that officials and politicians focus on delivering public benefits, such as affordable housing for ordinary families, and not gated communities and private profit for tax-avoiding investment funds.

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Politicians Urge Minister to Call In Craighouse

david key pictureDavid Key SNP Councillor of Craiglockhart and Fountainbridge Ward

“I would ask you to read the supporting documentation put before the committee. On every page there is at least one paragraph that points out that this application runs contrary to a large number of local and national planning guidelines and policies. There are breaches of the Local Development Plan. The settings of the Grade A listed buildings are spoilt by the proposed new build. And so it goes on. The surprise is that the planning officials then recommended approval for the application. The bigger surprise is that the Planning Committee approved that recommendation, albeit by a margin of 9 to 6.

This approval was based on an enabling case that is cited as the only way to protect the A listed buildings. This examination of the financial case for this is backed up by a very flimsy 8 page document at App2 to the planning paper – it is not a convincing document.   I was also very dismayed by the Planning Convener’s public statement on the decision which reads:

“This has been a very difficult decision for the Committee to make and I appreciate that not everyone will be happy. The Committee’s main concern was to protect the listed buildings from further deterioration and I believe that this was the best outcome for the site.

“During the three years that this proposal has been discussed, the developer has taken on board some concerns from the local community such as significantly reducing the number of houses to be built on the site. The developer has also agreed to hand over 80% of the land to allow the public to access open space and woodland.”

Firstly, above all else, it is the building owner’s responsibility to maintain the buildings to an appropriate standard. The Council should not be cowed into supporting this type of speculative development in order to relieve them of their statutory responsibilities.

Secondly, although there has been a reduction of the new build proposed this does not mean that the latest proposal is the right amount of new build.

Thirdly, the developer and the planners both know that public access to the grounds was an absolute requirement for any proposed development.

This application is the most contentious in the history of Edinburgh. It has rolled on for 3 years. It has received more objections than any other application – several thousand. On the day of the hearing all of the local elected representatives (1 MP, 2 MSPs, 6 CEC councillors) spoke in support of the community and asked the committee to reject the application. Every Community Council involved asked for a rejection. A number of city-wide and local interest groups expressed their concerns and spoke eloquently even offering alternatives uses for the site.

In spite of this body of oral evidence on top of the quite damning application report, the committee approved the application. Indeed, one of the planning committee councillors stated in his summing up that they, as planning members, should not take local opinion into account when coming to a decision.

What then is the point of a planning system that proactively seeks comment and involvement from the local community at all levels of application if these very people are ignored?

What is the point of Community Councils if, when they put forward a well-researched and detailed case, their views are dismissed?

What is the point of local democracy if the views of elected representatives across the political spectrum are not given fair weight?

What is the point of a much vaunted Community Empowerment Bill if this is the sort of precedent we are seeing in our Capital City?

Please call in this decision immediately and subject it to the appropriate level of impartial, forensic scrutiny that it deserves.”

sandy howat pictureCouncillor Sandy Howat – Vice Convenor of Planning

“As the Scottish Government progresses with the Community Empowerment Bill, failure to ‘call in’ the application would be against the set aims of the government in empowering communities to be an integral part of genuinely bringing a positive enhancement to their communities and feel truly a part of the system governing our land.  All seven local Councillors, the constituency MSP, a local list MSP, local MP and the three local Community Councils all opposed the development.  They spoke for the thousands of residents who campaigned to see a more appropriate development take place.  Without additional scrutiny of the decision the very essence of democracy will be a loser.

I do not wish to denigrate the work undertaken by my fellow Councillors on the Planning Committee. My colleagues have given considerable thought to the application and the competing policy aims.  It is in this context, where the list of breached policies is long and the argument to overturn them so thin, that would see a benefit in having additional scrutiny of the application.

There would appear to simply be three tests set out in SPP 142 with regard to ‘Enabling Development’.  My personal view is that the policy aim, whilst presently insufficient in detail, has not been met.

“Enabling development may be acceptable where it can be clearly shown to be the only means of preventing the loss of the asset and securing its long-term future. Any development should be the minimum necessary to achieve these aims. The resultant development should be designed and sited carefully to preserve or enhance the character and setting of the historic asset.”

With regard to the first sentence, there is little evidence to suggest that thorough research of alternatives has been undertaken.  Pertaining to the second, how is a minimum arrived at? The economic calculations used within the application have been openly challenged yet there is an absence of a robust and clear methodology in assessing how neither a conservation deficit nor a level of appropriate profit can be arrived at.  The final sentence only serves to add insult to injury with the application report itself citing numerous breaches of character and setting on an historic, listed and supposedly protected site.

Of the three tests laid out in SPP 142 at best it could be stated that the first two require considerably more detail in order to be effective and instructive.  In the case of Craighouse it is most difficult to see how the aims have been met.  The third test has clearly not been met, even closely.  I therefore have little recourse but to request that the application, and the pertinence of SPP 142, be given the benefit of additional scrutiny.

The Craighouse application covers a wide range of conflicting policy aims; the report itself states a high degree of detriment when assessing the impacts of the application as proposed.  ‘Calling in’ the application would allow the Scottish Government to set exemplar standards of planning, listed buildings, natural heritage and economic development policies.  It is an opportunity to shape the future plan led development of our country and it should not be missed.”

Council Leadandrew burns pictureer Andrew Burns – Labour Cllr Craiglockhart and Fountainbridge:

“As I’m sure you’ll be aware, the decision was also taken in the face of major public objection … from two MSPs, one Westminster MP, six local councillors (myself included), all of the surrounding Community Councils, and various heritage organisations; not to mention thousands of local residents who have, over the course of many months, signed petitions against the plans and/or recorded objections with the Planning Department. Very, very few people in the local community supported the plans.

The decision stands in contravention of a number of national planning policies and will overturn national protections on listed buildings and their setting; wildlife and biodiversity. No one is contesting this — with Officers putting forward the application for approval on the sole basis of it being ‘enabling development’. Yet all the indications from the published documentation indicated to me, that it failed all tests incorporated in the Scottish Planning Policy 142 for such ‘enabling development’.

As it stands, the application will therefore cause considerable and irreparable damage to the environment and place a significant and unsustainable burden on local infrastructure.  The site has for many years been open to access for the local community, and although access is not scheduled to be withdrawn, the very nature of the proposed new-build means that access will indeed be severely restricted.

The overall resulting loss of green space cannot be over-estimated, not just for the local community but also for Edinburgh as a whole; and with undoubted implications for future decisions on similar ‘enabling development’ applications throughout the country.

I do urge you therefore, to call-in and review this specific application … I am personally convinced it is of national importance with potentially nationwide implications.”

Councillor Melanie Main Melanie Main – Green Councillor Meadows and Morningside

“The historic Craighouse site has been part of peoples’ lives for generations in Edinburgh.  It’s a loved beauty spot, one of Edinburgh’s seven hills, and part of what makes the city a wonderful place to live and visit, whether you see it in protected views from other parts of the city, or enjoy walking through the woods and open space. The site is of national significance.

The historic buildings and their landscape setting are protected by numerous national and local policies which this application contravened.

Yet the application was passed by  a narrow majority of the Planning  Committee against these policies and against the thousands of objections from individuals along with those of 6 local Councillors, 2 MSPs, 1 MP, 7 Community Councils, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Spokes and numerous other groups and organisations.

The community has been completely disempowered.   In a time when the referendum has engaged so many people this feels like a very real slap in the face for so many of my constituents who tell me they have lost all faith in public engagement and the planning system –  a planning system that it is claimed operates in the long-term public interest, but in  this case has allowed overriding public interest to be dismissed.

I understand that the Director of the Federation of Property said this will set a national precedent on Enabling Developments. This should not be allowed to happen across Scotland and the planning rule-book ripped up.

There are  very many undisputed  material reasons why the development should not go ahead  and the enabling case put forward is not  justified.   In order to protect both the historic buildings and their setting  and the green space of the wonderful  Edinburgh site, for future generations to enjoy,  I would ask that you call this application in for public scrutiny.”




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Community buyout plan still on track

Despite the disappointment of councillors voting to grant consent for the hugely unpopular Craighouse development, the community buyout plan for the site is continuing to gather momentum. The planning consent has no impact on theemail header 3 community’s right to buy the site under the Community Empowerment Bill. It also has no impact on the value the community would have to pay. Because the planning consent was argued on the basis of enabling development, then the value of the site (both with and without consent) is strictly the same: £4.7m. So, the community has the right to buy the Craighouse site for £4.7m whether the consent is granted or not, once the power is in force in Scotland in early 2015.

We have been getting some great people on board and lots of support. There will be more announcements coming from us on this, soon. Craighouse is likely to be put forwards as a flagship example of the new powers in the Community Empowerment Bill, so there is a lot of interest.DSC01258

We have already shown that we can make the Craighouse site viable long-term without new-build for a £4.7m site value, and that we can show enough financial return on that investment to make it viable.

In the meantime, please keep campaigning for the planning consent to be called-in, as this will protect the site from harm in the meantime, as well as restoring some trust in the planning system. It will also protect other sites from the terrible Craighouse precedent.

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Terrible National Planning Precedent Set by #Craighouse Decision

topPlease support the MSPs in getting Craighouse Called-In. It takes 5 mins to email to support their submission. All letters are really important. Click on this link for details and sample letter.

Terrible National Planning Precedent
Craighouse will be used as a precedent across Scotland, as has already been made clear  by the Director of the Scottish Property Federation. Enabling development, a concept conceived for turning derelict, uneconomically viable sites into viable sites, will now be used to turn economically viable sites into derelict ones in order to overturn planning regulations. Craighouse already had enabling development in the early 90s, to fund Napier’s conversion of the site for university use. They got a greenfield housing development (Meadowspot), a new building and a car-park, all on protected green space. They ran a weddings business in the buildings that Napier’s own figures showed fully funded the maintenance of the buildings. And they even got millions of grant funding from Historic Scotland and other public funders. But, given the opportunity to sell up for £10m plus a £3m bonus) by teaming up with an offshore property speculator on the Isle of Man, they took the money and ran. It’s easy to see why listed buildings owners and property developers across Scotland are excited about the new opportunities that the Craighouse planning decision has unlocked.

The precedent set by Craighouse is:

  • You don’t need to save an abandoned building to get an enabling development: you can take an occupied set of buildings, request they are put on the buildings at risk register and then demand development against the rules to take them off again.
  • You can do an enabling development, take the money, then sell the site and demand another enabling development again.
  • You don’t need to prove there is no alternative future for the buildings.
  • You don’t need to sign any agreement that ensures the listed buildings are converted after you have done your new-build.
  • You can use a financial argument where the figures don’t have to make sense, be correct, transparent or available for anyone else to check. You don’t even need to prove your figures are checked against or accord with enabling development rules.
  • You can overturn any set of policies you like, including those protecting Areas of Great Landscape Value, protected wildlife habitats in a Nature Conservation Site, nationally protected setting of A listed buildings, as well as other policies such as those on affordable housing. You can even bypass the Scottish Enabling Development Policy itself that requires that you “enhance or preserve the special character” of the setting.
  • You don’t even need to make sure your plan is sustainable by submitting a long-term maintenance plan for the buildings.

This long list of undesirable precedents turns the careful concept of Enabling Development on its head. A concept designed for very particular cases will now be used to allow owners of listed buildings to ignore rafts of planning regulations and protections on protected land without having to prove either that this is the only means of preserving the buildings or being properly financially transparent.

Community empowerment in tatters

But it’s even worse than that. For this decision leaves community empowerment in tatters, too. After overwhelming objections from thousands of members of the public, 7 community councils and 9 elected representatives (6 local Cllrs, 2 MSPs and the local MP), a press release was issued by the local community council questioning whether there is now any point in the public commenting on planning applications at all. If the planning policy and protections are disregarded in the face of simple dereliction threats, then what is the point of planning at all? This terrible decision – against policy, against the public and without proper transparency – demonstrates that planning is no longer trying to protect the long-term public interest, but instead is about protecting the interests of wealthy property owners.

Enabling development as a planning decision

The planning committee struggled with the concept of enabling development. The argument by officials was that there was no alternative to save the site. However, the Convenor of the planning committee – Ian Perry (who pushed through the grant decision)  said at the hearing “no-one is saying for one minute that there is no alternative” while interrupting the presentation of the community buyout plan just when the evidence of financial viability was being presented. Another committee member, Joanna Mowat, (who also pushed to grant the Craighouse Partnership’s proposals said it was impossible to prove a negative (that there is no alternative). Yet did not ask where the long-term maintenance plan was. It was clear that the committee were out of their depth.

Even the financial experts brought in to advice the planners admitted they were out of their depth when investigating alternatives, saying in their section of the planning report that they “are not qualified to pass comment on the accuracy of these figures” in a section the Craighouse Partnership had added to their application after the rest of the application was submitted – in the middle of the 28 days for the public to write in. These figures tried to show that only £20,000 profit could be made from a professional weddings and events business running in New Craig, when Napier’s own internal reports showed a £128,000 profit from a business they were running as a sideline. The Council’s financial appraisal said it did not have the professional expertise to evaluate the figures put in by the Craighouse Partnership on weddings – but proceeded to quote these figures and take them at face value anyway.

Given this confusion, how can any planning authority make any decision about whether there are alternatives or not? There is no guidance simple enough to fit into even a 7-hour planning hearing, let alone a normal planning meeting. The English Heritage guidelines are so complex they are far outside the scope of any local authority planning department to follow. The experts looking at the Craighouse financial case even admitted: “Officers have not looked at the appraisals in terms of the guidelines issued by English Heritage.”

Scottish planning policy asks planning authorities to work out whether there are alternative ways of preserving a site, but gives them no advice on how to do that. Scottish authorities are referred to the English Heritage advice, but it’s so complex and vague, that the only people who could really work out how to apply it are English Heritage and they don’t have any role in Scotland. So Scottish authorities are left to be bamboozled by figures they can’t begin to process.

Preserving the future of listed buildings

In the planning meeting, the example of Quartermile came up. The reason that the Quartermile development has (so far) failed to save the most difficult and beautiful parts of the site: the surgical block, was said to be that it wasn’t an enabling development. Whatever you think of this argument, what is clear is that small mistakes by planning officials can lead to a total failure of enabling developments to save listed buildings. Examples of this are too numerous to list, but include Sundial Properties’ only previous enabling development. If Craighouse is nodded through with so little scrutiny, it is almost certain to be another enabling development failure.

The reason given for the failure of Napier’s first Craighouse enabling development is that the maintenance costs of the listed buildings were too high. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask how long-term maintenance for Napier’s second Craighouse enabling development will be funded. The answer from officials was never delivered in writing, only verbally: that people generally pay to maintain their own properties. This is a strange answer to give and does not accord with what was previously said by The Craighouse Partnership nor by the English Heritage Guidelines. The maintenance issue needs more scrutiny.

The official planning report estimates the annual maintenance of New Craig and its surroundings as £287,500. New Craig is being divided into 44 flats with an average value of £453,000 each, but some are smaller and with values as low as £230,000. That means that the annual maintenance charges for these flats would be an average of £6,534. This is a phenomenally high annual maintenance figure for family properties of these claimed sales prices. Paying over £500 a month forever is a phenomenally high cost.

Why are the maintenance charges so high? Developers often like to build developments which require high maintenance charges, because they get two incomes: the sale value of the properties as well as a long-term maintenance income. The Craighouse proposals are very clearly designed with long-term management in mind: the common spaces, shared services and manicured gardens. For the new-build, this is quite normal, but for the old buildings this creates a huge extra strain on owners.

The largest component of the annual maintenance proposed is not the maintenance itself, but the management fees. A site designed the way Mountgrange and Napier’s proposals are requires full-time management and that’s expensive. A more co-operative model where owners share responsibility for maintenance would be much lower cost, but you would have to design your site and your business model to match a co-operative management structure. A community-buyout plan could achieve this, but it’s not something a private equity opportunity fund could create.

The impact of the Craighouse Decision on Enabling Development

The planning committee, faced with a complex, difficult case were out of their depth and did not consider all the issues properly or even consider the policies they should have. The planning report was so damning that planning experts were shocked to see a recommendation to grant. This is surely an invitation to unscrupulous owners of listed buildings to threaten dereliction in the hope that they, too, will be able to bend all the rules.

An application this complex can only be properly decided by a public inquiry. A national precedent this harmful should not be set by a planning authority that freely admitted it was out of its depth.

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Craighouse: Call-in with simple sample letter. Spread the word to everyone you know

Please support and spread the word. Click on this link!


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Please Write in Today and Share this Post to Support Our MSPs in demand for Call-In: #Craighouse Call-In

craighouseandtreeOur MSPs Alison Johnstone and Jim Eadie have written to Planning Minister Derek Mackay asking for the Craighouse application to be called in. The community is right behind them and greatly support our MSPs in this.

PLEASE write to minister Derek Mackay either through Jim and Alison or copied to them asking for Craighouse to be called in. A simple letter can be put in outlining some of the following issues in your own words. Please use your own words and say what you feel – there is more detail at the link at the bottom of this post for those that want to write something more detailed. (See below for how to write in)

Craighouse is a site of National Importance with Grade-A listed buildings in their nationally protected setting. This case sets a very undesirable precedent across the whole of Scotland. The Enabling Case was unproven and not properly assessed. There were many things wrong with the way it was presented, considered and assessed by the planning department and by the planning committee.

The decision was made against the objections of 2MSPs, MP, 6 local Councillors, 7 Community Councils, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the Friends of Craighouse and many other groups and organisations. It was objected to by thousands of members of the public who wrote in to the planning department – the largest amount of objections ever received by Edinburgh planning department for a single application.

The planning report was reported to be one of “the most damning” ever seen by our local MP with experts at the hearing pointing out that the words”detriment” and “detrimental” had been used 51 times in the planning report. The report admitted that the development – 172,000sq ft of newbuild plus associated carparking (more than all the listed buildings put together!) – damaged the settings of every single listed building on the site, against both local and national policy. It said that it would cause “significant detriment to the AGLV” (Area of Great Landscape Value) and contravened many Local Plan policies as well as diminishing one of Edinburgh’s seven hills. The only reason for consideration at all was that it was presented as an “Enabling Development” case.

This is the first Enabling Development of this size on a site of this importance in an urban area – and as such it creates a precedent across the whole of Scotland. There was no proper consideration of alternatives and the financial information remained largely hidden from the public. The Council and the Councillors were out of their depth, did not properly assess the application financially and admitted so. Appendix 2 – the Council’s so-called and very flimsy “financial report” said it had neither applied Enabling development guidelines to the figures nor had it calculated whether there was a conservation deficit. This is unacceptable.

Craighouse will set a precedent for other highly protected sites across Scotland and this has been admitted publicly in the Edinburgh Evening News by the Director of the Federation of Scottish Property, David Melhuish.

How to ask for a Call-In.

Contact the Minister for Local Government and Planning, Derek Mackay MSP

By email at

This is the common ministers’ email box – state clearly ‘for the attention of Derek Mackay’

Please copy in our local MSPs so they know you support the Call-In and they can made sure your letter is counted:,,

Please also ask Local Councillors to write in and ask for a Call-In.

By letter to:

Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning,St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh EH1 3DG.

For more information on Call-In and more detail that you might like to consider for any letter – please go to this link:

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Please write to the Scotttish Government and ask for the Craighouse application to be called in. Please do this very quickly.

If the application is ‘called in’, the Scottish Government takes over the final decision about the fate of Craighouse from the council. This can happen in cases where there is an issue of national importance. Calling-in stopped the Haymarket 17-storey tower.

To be Called-in the effects must be of “national importance”. But, the director of the Scottish Property Federation has already said it will set a national precedent, so there is no doubt it is of national importance: “The precedent of Edinburgh’s Craighouse decision may therefore prove to be a key consideration in assessing redevelopment proposals across Scotland”.

Our MSP, Jim Eadie, has already said in an interview with STV that he will “call on the Scottish Government to investigate the way in which this decision has been made”.

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian is also going to ask the Government to look into this decision as has Ian Murray MP. Andrew Burns, local councillor and leader of the council has said the application warrants call-in. Please add your voice to theirs.

How to ask for a Call-In.

Contact the Minister for Local Government and Planning, Derek Mackay MSP

By email at

This is the common ministers’ email box – state clearly ‘for the attention of Derek Mackay’

By letter to:

Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning,St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh EH1 3DG.

  • Please use your own words to describe your feelings about how this decision on Craighouse was made against the objections 2MSPs, an MP, 6 local Councillors, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Friends of Craighouse and huge numbers of the public.
  • And say how you feel about the way it contravenes Scottish Planning Policy and Local Policy to protect the site.
  • You can see the quality of the debate on the web cam. We suggest you listen to the debate at the end if you haven’t time for it all. There were excellent presentations from all the opposition.

Important points some of which you might want to include in the communication – use your own words to show your feelings for Craighouse.

  • Ask for City of Edinburgh Council Planning Application 12/04007/SCH3 to be called-in.
  • Craighouse is one of the 7 Hills of Edinburgh, the setting of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, which is of international significance
  • The planning application involves 7 listed buildings and their setting, both building and setting of national importance on Easter Craiglockhart Hill within the Local Nature Conservation Site.
  • The proposal asks for a significant amount of new build which has not been properly justified as enabling development to preserve the listed buildings.
  • The application goes against national planning policy and sets a very dangerous precedent for Enabling Developments across Scotland. The Director of the Scottish Property Federation, a trade body dedicated to the interests of the real estate industry in Scotland, has already hailed it as a precedent:“The precedent of Edinburgh’s Craighouse decision may therefore prove to be a key consideration in assessing redevelopment proposals across Scotland”
  • It will overturn national protections on: listed buildings and their setting; and wildlife and biodiversity.
  • It was opposed by 2MSPs, and MP, 6 local Councillors, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Friends of Craighouse, 7 Community Councils and many other groups as well as huge numbers of people – thousands wrote in to object.
  • The developer has exaggerated the condition of the building using the word ‘critical’ when asked by councillors. This is untrue.

Scottish Planning Policy: “SPP142″

The application was justified on just one national planning policy. No local policies were in favour of the planning application. Therefore, the committee were being asked to consider a national policy and not one of their own Edinburgh policies. It was evident at the hearing on September 3rd that the council planning committee was finding it very difficult to assess this case and was struggling to this Scottish Planning Policy 142 which says:

“Enabling development may be acceptable where it can be clearly shown to be the only means of preventing the loss of the asset and securing its long-term future. Any development should be the minimum necessary to achieve these aims. The resultant development should be designed and sited carefully to preserve or enhance the character and setting of the historic asset.”

  • For Craighouse it is not the ‘only means’ as there are alternative possible uses for the site. The convenor of the planning committee said “I don’t think anyone is in dispute there can’t be an alternative use for this… you’ve made your case that there is an alternative”. So, the plans fail the first test of SPP142 because there clearly is an alternative.
  • No financial plans were presented to the committee for securing the site’s long-term future. No attempt was made to demonstrate the viability of funding long-term maintenance. So, the plans fail the second test of SPP142 because the long-term future is not secured.
  • The amount was not shown to be a minimum as no modelling was presented of a minimum. So, the plans fail the third test of SPP142.
  • The planning report used the word “detriment” 51 times, so it cannot be said that the plans preserve or enhance the character and setting of the historic asset. So the plans fail the fourth test of SPP142.

Saving Craighouse with a community buyout plan

The Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill gives communities the opportunity to save precious sites themselves. The issue of whether communities should be given the opportunity to save sites like Craighouse is critical to consideration of this case. If SPP142 requires alternatives to be investigated, why did Edinburgh Council’s planning committee not think that this was material to their decision? If this precedent is allowed to stand, then what use is the Community Empowerment Bill?

  • There is an alternative Community Plan supported by local business people and working with advice from the Development Trust Association Scotland that will protect the green space in the site and convert the listed buildings for residential and business use.
  • Craighouse would be an ideal flagship case to demonstrate commitment to local empowerment.
  • A strong case with very strong evidence was put together by the local community that the application should not be passed.
  • Ignoring the community’s valid, relevant and material concerns about this development shows the lack of ability of national policies to deliver local empowerment.
  • Large numbers of people wrote strong a material reasons why this application should be refused. They should not be ignored.

Quality of debate

  • Those looking at the web cast online were horrified by the quality of the debate by some of the councillors. Had they read the Planning Report or the objections?


Posted in Planning process, Political process, Press coverage | 2 Comments

Craighouse planning application voted through by Councillors

Most of you will have heard the bad news that the Craighouse development was granted by Councillors 9 votes to 6.

This was in the face of overwhelming evidence from the Community Councils, the local politicians, the Friends of Craighouse, The Cockburn Association and the Architectural Heritage Society Scotland – not to mention the contents of the planning report itself – as someone said the most damning report they’d seen with a recommendation to grant on the bottom of it – with 51 uses of the word “detrimental”.

The video of the meeting will be online soon.

Here is an article in the news:

Local MSP Jim Eadie has said he will investigate opportunities for calling the application in by the Scottish Government for greater scrutiny where the decision can be overturned. We would very much support him in doing this. We will let you know next steps and the best way to support this.

If an Enabling development of this size that clearly damages the settings of every historic building in the site, causes “significant detrimental impact” to the Area of Great Landscape Value and that diminishes Edinburgh’s seventh hill (all according to the planning report) can be granted when it does not accord with either LDP or Enabling Development policy, then no protected site is safe.

It was a very sad day for Edinburgh.

However, the news, the clear incompetence of the planners in answering questions, the leading interpretations given by Convenor Ian Perry and some of the pathetic closing speeches by some of the committee Councillors who showed no understanding of their own policies or procedures – or the community either -  has led to a huge further upswell  of support since this terrible decision was announced. People are really upset about this and Facebook and Twitter have been awash with comments. People have been stopping us in the street to pledge their support – with kind offers to stand in front of the bulldozers if it comes to it.

Thanks so much everyone for all you have done and all the support for this beautiful place. This isn’t over. And your continued pledges of support mean a lot.

We’ll post more as soon as we are ready to launch the Call-In Campaign so people know what they can do to help next.


Posted in Planning process | 1 Comment