In June, we put in a FOI request to ask what meetings the Scottish Government have had with members of the Craighouse Partnership.
Despite the fact it should take them 20 days in law, over 4 months later the Scottish Government had missed the deadline (several times) and the appeal deadline, holding up our FOI request for over 91 days. So, we put in a complaint to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
On Monday afternoon, we received a partial release of the FOI information from the Scottish Government. The information we have been sent is not complete and key minutes and reports are missing along with another 2 documents they admit to withholding. Still no reasons given for the delay or for many of the documents being missing.
However, what we can tell you maybe explains some of the long delay we’ve all been experiencing at Craighouse waiting for the outcome of the planning application for the last 11 months.
It seems that whilst continuing to sign and fail to meet deadlines for processing agreements and telling the Council they are working on a scheme 2, Mountgrange and other members of the Craighouse Partnership have been working behind the scenes to try to get the Scottish Government to force the application through against any potential refusal by the planners or the Council – in a similar scenario to what happened over the Trump golf course.
We can now confirm that Manish Chande, one of the two partners of Mountgrange and other members of the Craighouse Partnership met with Minister John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, specifically about Craighouse.
Manish Chande was also granted meetings with the Scottish Government planners.
These meetings were arranged by Invicta PA – Mountgrange’s lobbyist – despite the fact that parliamentary rules say that you should not be given greater access to MSPs by employing a commercial lobbyist. Equal access should be given to the community, yet none of the people above who met with Chande have met with the community, including ministers and Historic Scotland.
We also know they were seeking a meeting with Minister Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs and Minister Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning in the Scottish Government.
Meeting between the Craighouse Partnership and Historic Scotland
Initially, Manish Chande was looking for a meeting with John Swinney in March. This request was turned down and, instead, Chande met with Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage Management at Historic Scotland. We have the note from this meeting which is relevant to what happens next.
Before she worked for Historic Scotland, Cummins worked for the Council planning department and was in charge of the team dealing with city centres and Listed Buildings Consents when the Council passed the demolition of listed buildings in and around the Old Town for Mountgrange’s last – disastrous – failed Caltongate scheme - triggering a UNESCO investigation and still a derelict problem site many years later.
The documents show her meeting Manish Chande, who had come up from London, and the rest of the Craighouse Partnership without the Historic Scotland officers in charge of the case and without the Council present.
The note from the meeting appears to show Mountgrange putting pressure on Historic Scotland to push the Council to accept their enabling development case. At first, Barbara Cummins seems circumspect, suggesting that the developers should remove elements of the scheme and go back to the Council. However, it is decided that:
“HS [Historic Scotland] to consider what its role is and give some steer as to enabling case, for example use of RICS advice re site value (Action BC [Barbara Cummins] to consider if further advice can be provided to CEC)”
(Square brackets ours.)
Remember, an enabling development needs the site to be of near to or no value as it is seen as the equivalent of a public subsidy – not a mechanism for developer to make extra profits for themselves.
It is interesting to note here that Mountgrange obviously don’t want the site’s value to be looked at too closely in relation to the enabling development case.
“Mountgrange concerned re this case and the fact the seller, as a further education institution, will already have undergone due diligence in establishing site value, this is now being questioned by local planning authority.”
Mountgrange Push Idea of Notification Direction
The note then shows the Craighouse Partnership pushing the idea of a Notification Direction.
A Notification Direction would mean that the ministers are stating their intention to “call in” an application before a Council is given the chance to make a decision. It is not usually used for cases where a Council is likely to refuse an application. The most high-profile case where a similar situation happened would be the Trump golfcourse development in Aberdeen, where it was called in and granted against the Council. And we all know how that ended.
The reason Mountgrange gives for Historic Scotland to interfere is the Buildings at Risk Register (BARR) and National Performance Indicators (NPI).
The note says Mountgrange say:
“If CEC minded to refuse, given NPI to reduce numbers of A listed buildings at risk, would they intervene to call in the application? (Action BC to further consider)”
Numbers of Category A buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register is a National Performance Indicator – or a target – for Historic Scotland, so they are under a lot of pressure to get them off the register.
However, as the Friends found out, it was the Craighouse Partnership who asked for the buildings to be put on the BARR in the first place! (More on this here). Historic Scotland should not allow a tool that was designed to help buildings with no options to be used to exploit a protected site for large profits when it had received many other bids.
Mountgrange also complain about our local MSP, Jim Eadie who has supported the local community in wanting the protections on the site and planning policy to be upheld:
“Mountgrange referenced political interest in site and fact that local MSP, Jim Eadie, had stated he supported the opposition to the scheme – seen as unhelpful in advance of full consideration”
What happened next
As a result of this meeting, Barbara Cummins of Historic Scotland agreed to consider Notification Directions.
Invicta PA – the developers’ lobbyists – then lobby to get meetings for Chande with Scottish Ministers again.
Mountgrange Meets the Minister John Swinney in May.
The minister receives a briefing document about Craighouse beforehand – written by Barbara Cummins. This is sent to a long list of senior figures, including the First Minister.
The briefing paper is poor and inaccurate and contradicts a lot of the note of the March meeting. For example, the briefing paper:
• states the proposed development is of high quality (in March Barbara Cummins expressed concern that “the economics are driving the development at the expense of a good quality outcomes”)
• fails to mention the site is an Area of Great Landscape Value, Local Biodiversity Site and also one of Edinburgh’s seven hills
• fails to mention the setting of the Category A listed buildings are nationally protected by planning policy.
• states that Historic Scotland backs the enabling case – despite the fact that they did not say this in the note from March.
It is also stated that the Council have agreed to the enabling case – yet if this was the case, then why were Mountgrange trying to get the ministers to interfere and override the Council through a Notification Direction?
The Craighouse Partnership and the Minister
The minutes from the meeting with John Swinney are conspicuously absent from the FOI release sent to us, with no explanation of why they have been withheld. However, the briefing document outlines what was to be covered by the meeting. What is most surprising is the purpose and the particular relation to Craighouse – a live planning application.
“Purpose of meeting:
Mr Chande has requested the meeting to discuss property development in Scotland
It is expected Mr Chande will raise the handling of Major Applications, in particular the Craighouse Site in Edinburgh “
In addition to John Swinney, attending the meeting were:
• Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage Management, Historic Scotland
• Manish Chande, Mountgrange
• William Gray Muir, Sundial Properties
Not having the minutes, we don’t know what was said – and certainly do not know John Swinney’s response. But we do know that Notification Directions formed a large part of the Appendix document of the briefing which shows Mountgrange’s intention to raise this.
As you will see from this extract, it seems as though the briefing document is now pushing Mountgrange’s agenda, as outlined in March. You will note the reason given for all of this – National Performance Indicators – as pushed to Barbara Cummins in the March meeting.
“The developers have outlined their concerns that natural environment considerations might be given undue weight by the council and lead to a refusal without full consideration of the future of these nationally important listed buildings. They have asked us what role Scottish Ministers might take to ensure that any decision taken gives due weight to the nationally designated heritage assets. We have briefed the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, that we are investigating the potential use of a Notification Direction, should we feel this is appropriate.”
“With the national performance indicator to reduce the number of A-listed Buildings at Risk in mind, we believe the Craighouse Campus case raises issues of national significance where Ministers may also wish to have the same degree of oversight as proposed at Hyndford Quarry. Should the local authority be minded to refuse consent it may, therefore, be appropriate for Scottish Ministers to review their reasons for this decision to ensure that adequate weight was given to securing the sustainable reuse of the A-listed buildings on the site, and to intervene (potentially via call-in) if this is felt not to be the case. It would be highly unusual for Ministers to intervene were a local authority minded to refuse planning permission. As there are both applications for planning permission and listed building consent the case also raises cross portfolio issues with the Minister for Local Government and Planning. The question of what options may be open to and appropriate for Ministers, therefore, requires further examination.”
Are Historic Scotland – due to targets – ignoring their duty to protect the nationally important setting of these buildings – and allowing themselves to be used as a tool by the developers to get excessive newbuild on a protected site of Great Landscape Value?
Was John Swinney badly briefed?
Was he informed that the site was an Area of Great Landscape Value and on Edinburgh’s seventh hill? (No mention of either in the briefing document.)
Has John Swinney been informed since that the Craighouse Partnership allowed water to run down Bevan House for 9 days?
Was John Swinney told that it was the Craighouse Partnership who asked for the buildings to be put on the Buildings at Risk Register in the first place?
Was he aware Historic Scotland had said No to building on the carpark and adjacent green space to all the bidders before Mountgrange bid for the site?
Why should Mountgrange be given different and privileged treatment to all the other bidders for the site?
We cannot know what the response of John Swinney or any other minister has been. We very much hope that they have resisted the demands to treat Craighouse as another Trump golfcourse. It is certainly disappointing that the Craighouse Partnership have been having meetings with Ministers specifically lobbying about Craighouse – unchallenged – in the middle of a live planning application, before the Council has made a decision. It is breath-taking that the Craighouse Partnership have been trying to side-step policy, democracy, and the Council itself in this blatant manner.
We hope that ministers don’t fall for this and have respect for the policies and plans that are there to protect Scotland’s precious spaces.
We are still battling to get proper and complete information from our FOI request and the case will now been passed to the Information Commissioner for Scotland.