In Memory

dougie We are very sad to let you know that Friends of Craighouse member, supporter and friend, Douglas Hamilton, has died.

A tireless champion of the site and a great  supporter of the Friends of Craighouse, Dougie – as he was known to all –  did so much. Working hard flyering and writing letters, we particularly remember and have him to thank for the tireless work he did – out in all weathers – collecting signatures for our petition. Online petitions were just becoming fashionable at the time, but we deliberately decided to keep things local and go for a hard-copy paper petition – the old-fashioned kind – to demonstrate the amount of support in the local community for the site. Of course hand-signed petitions take a lot of physical legwork and Dougie was a huge part of this endeavour – out each evening, rain or shine to let people know about it.

We were thrilled when we collected nearly 6,000 signatures from the local community. So much so, that we were questioned for not looking cross enough in the resultant photo in the Evening News. As you can see we all look quite pleased with our enormous petition!petitionDougie was a central figure in our campaign and continued to defend the site up to the present time.

Aside from the great affection we all held him in, he was a well-known person in our local community and will be hugely missed – a great character and a lovely man.

We are so sorry he is no longer with us and we want to send all our good thoughts and sympathy to his family, including his wife, Gill, also a great friend of the site and who has been so supportive over the years.

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Is Craighouse being bought by Quartermile developer?

Companies recently registered at Companies House have the Craighouse name in them. Could it be that Craighouse is being bought by the owner of Quartermile, property investor, Moorfield? The company names imply that it is the “MREF III” Fund by Moorfield that is buying Craighouse, which is the same fund that owns Quartermile.

We have talked about Quartermile (the development of the old Royal Edinburgh Hospital) several times before as the A-Listed Surgical Block at Quartermile has been left undeveloped for 15 years since it was sold in 2001. At the end of last year, the Surgical Block was sold to Edinburgh University. It is Edinburgh University that will do the conversion work of the surgical hospital. The clear question coming from this story is: if converting to housing didn’t save the main A listed buildings at Quartermile, why try to do that at Craighouse? The Quartermile development had gone through a series of owners, bailouts and sales. £500m of debt was written off when the publicly bailed-out bank Lloyds took over Quartermile’s owner, Gladedale, in 2009.

We will give you more information when we have it.

The companies created in June naming Craighouse are are:

1)  Craighouse Developments One Ltd
2)  Craighouse Developments Two Ltd
3)  Craighouse Developments Three Ltd
4)  CH Edinburgh Holdings Ltd
 
5)  CH Edinburgh Ltd
 
 
6)  Mref Iii BG Craighouse Ltd
 
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NEWSFLASH: IS CRAIGHOUSE PARTNERSHIP PLANNING CONSENT VALID?

New Information Could Call it into Question

The granting of planning permission for the new build at Craighouse depended completely on a “conservation deficit” existing i.e. that they would not make enough profit from developing only the existing buildings without newbuild. The conservation deficit depended on the balance between the costs of development and sales values.

The amount of newbuild has to  – according to Enabling Development policy – be at an absolute minimum.

The local community and Friends of Craighouse always insisted that the sales values used by the developers were too low and that realistic prices meant no justification for any new build on the site.

The Council disagreed and said that they had undertaken a full appraisal of the financial proposal put forward by the developers.

New Information now calls this into question.

An ongoing FOI process since early 2015 that has required the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner in order to force the City of Edinburgh Council to release information, has shown it is increasingly clear that what was stated in the Council’s own planning report was not true.

The planning report said the full financial appraisal undergone by the Council included “internal and external audits” of the developers’ financial proposal.

However, it now turns out that this key statement in the planning report may not be correct.

External audits of costs were finally released after repeated FOI requests. After the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner, some details of sales price analysis were released in the form of a heavily redacted e-mail from May 2013. This was not an assessment of Scheme 3, nor of Scheme 2 but of SCHEME 1 – a scheme with a totally different plan, from a different time to the Scheme 3 and that wasn’t accepted at the time as an Enabling Development.

How can that count as an audit? It doesn’t.

The 2013 spreadsheet attached to the e-mail remains withheld. Nothing from the Council exists from 2014 except Appendix 2 of the planning report which does not constitute an audit in any shape or form. Appendix 2 is merely an acceptance of what the developer says – not an internal or external audit.

What does exist is a presentation to the Council by the developers that is clearly of very questionable validity in terms of sales values. This is not an “internal” or “external” audit either.

Sales values seen by the Evening News in 2014 showed sales values for the development of the listed  buildings that meant no conservation deficit existed and that no new build was required under Scottish planning regulations.

(Note that the date of the sales figures seen by the Evening News was only around 5 weeks after the hearing and 5 weeks BEFORE permission was formally granted on 18-Nov-14!)

It looks like the Council didn’t audit Scheme 3, despite what it said in the planning report and to the planning committee.

So – what now?

Could this challenge the validity of the planning consent?

Further developments are expected in this ongoing process. Watch this space. We will keep you updated.

Posted in Finance | 1 Comment

Object to the demolitions of parts of A Listed buildings at Craighouse: Deadline 3rd June.

The Craighouse planning consent was supposed to save the listed buildings, but instead all that is being proposed right now is yet more demolitions. Yet again, we are being asked to object to the planning department to stop further destruction of the site.

See at the bottom of this post for instructions on how to object.
Deadline: Friday 3rd June

William Gray Muir, the developer pushing for the planning consent to “save” Craighouse has now moved onto other projects and refuses to talk about Craighouse anymore. While new investor, Clearbell, markets the site as “Residential development land” and is seeking “delivery partners“. A series of building warrant applications on the Edinburgh planning portal for Craighouse are only for demolitions: no sign of building warrant applications for renovations or construction.

ChimneyImage

In less than two years, the enabling development has failed.

 

The application asks to demolish the chimney shown on the right as it is leaning and has become unsafe. But the proposals are not to repair this chimney. The tall chimneys are a key defining feature of the architecture of these A listed buildings. The chimney should be repaired, not demolished. What is the point of the enabling development if parts of the site are gradually demolished as they deteriorate?

2014-04-20-4809

The current planning applications ask to remove the current gates from the pedestrian entrance to the site, including one of the stone pillars. The application states that the materials will be stored for restoration at some unspecified point in the future. But when?

The gates are being removed for “site traffic egress”. But, this route is highly unsuitable for construction traffic. There are no plans presented for the route construction traffic will take.

In the meantime, what is to stop the owners putting up another 2014-07-23-5307“temporary” wooden barrier, blocking access to the site? No planning application was made for that temporary structure and once the current gates are gone, something needs to be put in place to block unauthorized vehicle access. No plans are supplied that prevent unauthorized vehicle access, but allow pedestrian access.

The “enabling development” was supposed to preserve public access and save the buildings. The risk is that this is a precursor to blocking public access to the site until such time as a buyer is found who is willing and able to fund the restoration of the listed buildings.

How to object:

You can object by either:

  1. E-mailing Barbara Stuart (Barbara.Stuart@edinburgh.gov.uk), giving the reason for your objection and the two reference numbers: 16/02163/FUL and 16/02164/LBC, as well as your name and address
  2. Object directly on the website at both these links: 16/02163/FUL and 16/02164/LBC

Your reasons for objecting could include:

  • The enabling development was supposed to save the buildings, not lead to further demolitions.
  • The chimneys are critical to the design of the A-Listed buildings and should be repaired, not demolished.
  • The entrance gates being removed are not a suitable exit or entrance for construction traffic and there is already a construction traffic route.
  • No plans are shown for how to stop unauthorized vehicles going into the site via the entrance once the gates are removed.
  • If the gates were replaced with a “temporary” structure like the other entrance, access to the site would be blocked, which would break a key commitment made by the applicant for the current consent.
  • The map in the application is out of date and does not show the current main entrance, which is critical to understanding the application.
Posted in Clearbell, Mountgrange, Planning process, Sundial | 2 Comments

Removal of gates and chimney at Craighouse

There is a new planning application at Craighouse to remove the gates by the lodge and reduce the size of a chimney (for “safety”). We are still investigating.

Here is the main planning application: https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk/idoxpa-web/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=O6AK68EWLMX00

Here is the Listed Building Consent application: https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk/idoxpa-web/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=O6AK6YEWLN000

The deadline to comment seems to be Friday 3rd June (but these dates tend to change, as we have seen before).

Here is the “design statement”:

16_02163_FUL-DESIGN_STATEMENT-3332398

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Why is Scotland’s Finance Minister, John Swinney, so keen to hide what he did in May 2013?

The Scottish Government are claiming that Scotland doesn’t need regulation of the lobbying industry because it already releases all meetings that Scottish Ministers have, including with lobbyists. Except that in the Craighouse case, they haven’t.

You may remember that after a tip-off, we knew that Mountgrange (the owner of the Craighouse site) and their lobbyists had got a private meeting with John Swinney in 2013, but wanted to know more, so we submitted a Freedom of Information Request. It took a huge amount of campaigning and appeals over several months to get the Scottish Government to honour that FOI request and release some information about that one meeting. So, hardly the transparency that the Scottish Government claim there.

But what about the public register of Ministerial Engagements? Well, for May 2013 (the month of the Craighouse meeting) John Swinney’s appointments are nowhere to be found. Instead, the meetings for June 2013 appear twice. OK, so you might think it was an honest mistake. So, we asked them. They ignored the request to correct the information, instead claiming “the Scottish Government is committed to increasing transparency”.

Here are the engagements, but I wonder if you can see any commercial lobbyists in this list. It looks to us like they list the clients of the lobbyists, but not the lobbyists themselves.

The campaign to release this information continues, as does the campaign to get the Scottish Government to commit to a *real* lobbying transparency bill, such as those in other countries, like the USA.

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Woodland clearance work at Craighouse

Woodland clearance work at Craighouse has started and it isn’t pretty. We had expected that before such works had started the council would ensure that proper protections for drainage, flooding and wildlife would be in place. All we hear is of delays to drainage plans and silence on tree protection and wildlife protection. We have asked several times, but received no replies at all. We will let you know if we hear anything, but in the meantime we encourage you to contact your local councillors.

Woodland cleared by front entrance to the site

Woodland cleared by front entrance to the site

Mountgrange’s previous developments, such as Caltongate, were left in a state like this for years. The site is now managed under Mountgrange’s new name, “Clearbell”, where it is described as “Residential Development Land”. We assume the new name, Clearbell, is to disassociate themselves with the past financial failures of Mountgrange, but the same staff are involved just transferred to the new company.

Are Sundial still involved in the project? We asked William Gray Muir, but he refused to answer. Susan Davison, who worked for Sundial during the Craighouse project is now back working for Clearbell, having previously worked for Mountgrange during the Caltongate years.

Woodland clearance at the top of Craiglea Place

Woodland clearance at the top of Craiglea Place

It’s very sad to see such beautiful places wrecked like this. The community is very upset.

There are signs saying this is just for invasive species, but the pictures show the work is woodland clearance.

20151005_113431

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The difficulties of recovering debts from networks of UK & offshore companies or their directors

It has recently become much easier for the public to find out about company and director finances because Companies House have made access to their companies database free. This is the government database of the public records of businesses in the UK. Previously, obtaining accounts and other documents from Companies House was £1 a time, which quickly adds up when looking into complex networks of UK and off-shore companies in various states of activity or insolvency, like the Mountgrange companies. We had previously had to buy various documents to find out about some of the other attempts to recover some of the Mountgrange millions.

But, now that the information is free, it is much easier to look into some of the Mountgrange businesses, their connections to off-shore companies and the attempts to recover some of the debts. For example, the administrator of Mountgrange Land Limited found it hard to recover a £1m+ loan that Mountgrange Land Limited made to its only director:

Mountgrange Land Limited Administrators report 4th March 2015

Director’s Loan

At the date of the Administrators’ appointment the Director’s loan account balance was £1.15m. The Administrators were engaged in protracted dialogue with the Director since commencement of the Administration regarding repayment which concluded that recovery of the Director’s loan from any formal enforcement action would be both limited and uncertain.

In the absence of funds to progress a formal enforcement action and in view of the potential recovery, the Administrators agreed a settlement of £100,000 with the Director in November 2014 in full and final settlement of the Director’s loan accounts in the Company and Stud. This has been apportioned in proportion to the Director’s loan balance in each . The sum of £81,249 was allocated to the Company.”

What this says is that after more than 5 years, a large administrator could not recover £1.15m from one of Mountrange’s directors and had to accept £100,000 instead.

This weighed heavily on our decision not to go to a full judicial review over the Craighouse decision. We were concerned that it would be very hard to protect the individual members of the group challenging the case. Whilst the law does little to protect communities fighting such huge companies through judicial review, it seems that the system also does little to challenge or reclaim the monies owed by large companies and the individuals associated with them. This unfairness in the system should be improved, but unfortunately the Scottish Government is making it harder for communities to challenge the lawfulness of decisions like Craighouse on environmental grounds.

 

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Decision not to take Judicial Review forwards – for now

For those not on our email list or following us on Facebook, you may not have heard that, we made the difficult decision to withdraw our current Judicial Review petition before the Protected Expenses Order Hearing.

We had been told we had a good case from our lawyers and had agreement from the Friends group to proceed to PEO stage to get a protected expenses order. We did not have agreement to proceed without a Protected Expenses Order.

The Judicial Review case was that the Councillors had available information not made available to the public. This is not allowed under European law. We have evidence that this was the case. We had an email response to our enquiry from committee convenor Ian Perry that talked of meetings set up for Councillors to discuss confidential information – including the private meeting at the hearing. We also had a response from planning head David Leslie in reply to a question about why confidential financial reports weren’t made available to Councillors saying that ALL information was made available to the Councillors at two meetings, including the private meeting in the hearing. Added to this, we knew from Councillors that financial information was available for them to read but they were not allowed to remove or take away as it was “confidential”. However, the Council proceeded to issue a point blank denial to the courts that the Councillors had available information not available to the public. Because of this, the advice from our lawyers changed in terms of the risk and potential costs of pursuing the case even to PEO stage. Our case – which should have been straightforward, would have had to go to presentation of evidence about the contents of those meetings, which means that the costs could substantially spiral.

Added to this, despite our case being with the Council, the developer’s lawyers were very heavily involved.

In our research we have encountered other groups who carried on regardless – many of them won their cases – then having to face appeals and ratcheting up £100,000s in the process. The system is so terrible for communities that it requires individuals to take the personal risk on behalf of an entire community. Those people have to shoulder any potential risk and we could only allow our petitioners to do this whilst the costs looked relatively controlled so that we could fundraise to support them. We could not allow our individual petitioners to take on the burden of risk if it looked as though that might spiral rapidly and uncontrollably.

Therefore, the tough decision was made not to continue with the current petition at this present time.

If further information comes to light to back up the evidence we already have in a way that would enable us to proceed to PEO without potentially spiralling costs – then the case can be pursued.

Judicial Review is a blunt weapon. But the anomaly in the law in terms of making individuals liable on behalf of communities – and the complete failure to protect them or allow communities to bring actions themselves rather than having to put individual people at risk in the face of companies with many millions at their disposal – has been shocking to understand.

Communities have few rights and the individuals who stand up for them have little protection. This is a situation recognised as unjust by many working for communities in the legal sector and needs to be rectified urgently and we are being urged by legal experts to publicise our experience to bring this terribly unjust situation to the attention of the wider public – particularly in this time of debate about the rights of communities highlighted by the new Community Empowerment Bill. Communities should not be unable to pursue legal justice simply due to the extremely prohibitive costs and unlimited risks to petitioners due to the deep pockets of the development industry.

Unfortunately, when it comes to legal rights, the Scottish Government is making it more, rather than less, hard for communities to access any legal help to be able to bring judicial reviews by bringing in a completely unworkable time limit (6 weeks) and continuing to allow those public-spirited individuals who put their names on the petition on behalf of their communities to be exposed to unlimited risks. Planning Democracy and other community-minded organisations are presently campaigning for Equal Rights of Appeal to provide communities with proper legal recourse and rights. We urge our members to support them and write to MSPs. We will tell you how in due course.

The money that was donated to the cause will be used to pay our lawyers – with what is left being retained for any new case to be brought. This will be donated to charity in due course. We will make our accounts available to the membership so that all remains transparent and clear.

We will be holding a Friends of Craighouse meeting very soon to discuss all of this with our members and discuss next moves.

Many thanks for all your support and sorry for this disappointing news at this time.

With so many unresolved issues hanging over the site, it is still paramount that the local community works towards a better solution to save this site – whether in the short or the long term.

Posted in Planning process | 1 Comment

Summer, dandelions and fundraising plans

dandelion photo craighouseSummer? Is it? Is it? We’re all hoping so (it is June, after all) but the recent rain and wind might make you think otherwise. Still, whatever the weather, the site continues to inspire and we’ve been sent this gorgeous photo of a dandelion in the breeze taken by Lauryn Hartree (15). A beautiful photo that suggests nature, transience and time passing (not to mention blustery weather). Thank you so much! A real photographic talent in the making.

We’ve also been hearing exciting stories of people’s fundraising. Last week a fantastic harp evening with well-known harpist Mary McMaster was organised by the lovely and tireless Tana for local residents. Just the kind of imaginative idea that brings the community together. Thank you all who took part – and thank you so much everyone who has contributed to the Craighouse Fighting Fund so far. It’s very much appreciated. Keep sharing and spreading the word.

https://friendsofcraighouse.com/last-chance-to-save-craighouse-donate/.

With other ideas for fundraising in the air – we hope that Craighouse in summer will continue to inspire, so the site can be saved and meet its full potential for the future.

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