Friends of Craighouse have received numerous questions about the questionnaire, the consultation process and the planning process.
Obviously, we are not the developers or the planning department, but we have tried our best to find out more for our members – and it has proved surprisingly difficult to answer their questions.
On Friday, we put in a complaint to Edinburgh City Planning Office about Craighouse Partnership’s implementation of the consultation process.*
The planning department is responsible for ensuring that the developers follow the proper consultation process rules, otherwise they can reject any planning application.
Many people have found the consultation process confusing. Many people have no idea when the consultation period runs from and to. Others felt pressured to fill out the questionnaire rather than write a letter to the developers.
As the dates and rules are written nowhere on the Craighouse Partnership website or consultation boards, we have had to dig out the rules from various council and Scottish Government websites.
You may have received an email from the developers saying that they are doing more than they are legally obliged to do. If you do get such an email, please forward it to us. Because, far from doing above and beyond the legal requirement, it is a matter of public record that the developers have been told what to do. It is also clear that they have not abided by the rules in some very important areas.
Dates and timing of process
Our first complaint is the most clear violation of the rules. You may be wondering how much time you have to submit your thoughts about their proposals. The developers don’t say. But the rules are clear: the developers must state, on their original invitation to the consultation event (which should be released 7 days in advance) what the deadline is for the consultation process.
The developers must make it clear the public can change these proposals
The developer’s questionnaire and consultation boards make it seem like there is very little the public can do to change their plans. This is also against the rules: they must state that the plans may change before they submit them as a proposal. And, of course, it is only a proposal that they are submitting: the planning department have not approved their plans at all.
Many people have noted that when it came to major areas of the plans (such as proposals to build across the orchard – protected green space) there was no corresponding question at all in the feedback questionnaire to enable consultation on these matters. Other questions simply didn’t make sense.
We have had many informal complaints that residents did not receive invites to the consultation. All residents within 1 mile of the site must be sent invites. If you didn’t get one, could you check please, and then let us know? It might be only a small problem of a few people not noticing, or a few houses getting missed. The developers have stated (variously) that they put out 13,000 leaflets and 17,000 leaflets – an interesting anomaly in itself. Whether people received the information needs to be verified for the sake of the general public and the developers themselves.
The developers are emailing people to say they are doing beyond the legal minimum consultation process. They are not. You can check the Edinburgh Council Planning Portal and see the discussion between the developer and the council to see that they were told what they had to do.
How are the Veracity of Facts and Figures to be Ascertained?
Then we get to a question: Is the developer required to make a fair and reasonable statement of the facts? The Scottish Government said that the purpose of this scheme is to give communities the facts to make decisions about planning proposals. But if we are given confusing, selective, misleading, or incorrect facts, then how is this going to work?
The members of the Craighouse Partnership have made a series of statements about themselves and the site. Some of these are hard to verify. What is the process for dealing with this? Can developers make claims without evidence? And if claims turn out to be misleading or wrong, how can they be corrected?
Who are They and Who Owns the Site?
Our next question is about the consortium itself. Who are they? Usually UK companies are obliged to present information, such as a registered office address, and a Companies House registration number so we know who they are. Some of the companies in the partnership have lots of individual companies with similar names. So which actual company are we dealing with here? Other companies mentioned by the “consortium” can’t be found in records. There is then the issue of LA&P, a company that was listed as an important part of the consortium, but has now disappeared. The Friends of Craighouse has repeatedly asked who they are and what the initials stand for – we have asked Napier, Invicta, William Gray Muir – and they are all refusing to tell us.
How can the general public, statutory bodies and stakeholders consult with companies if we don’t know who those companies really are? Information in the public realm is often just copied from press releases issued by PR companies, with no fact-checking. Friends of Craighouse believe someone needs to be asking these basic questions. We are, and it is interesting how the developers are refusing to answer them.
Some people are being given the impression that Sundial owns the site. Others say Mountgrange owns the site and Sundial is just a contractor.
The planning department have written that Craighouse Ltd owns the site. Who exactly are Craighouse Ltd? And who owns them?
The Friends of Craighouse think that the public deserve to know.
The developers have sent out some confusing messages.
For many months it has been stated on the Craighouse Partnership website that there would be a community liaison forum. Recent correspondence with the developers makes it sound like there is nothing in the pipe-line – but there is no announcement about what will replace this or why the idea was scrapped on their website. People are still asking the Friends about this forum and expecting it to happen.
The developers have also said they may not answer individual letters from now on but will answer questions through their website. Last Friday, they changed the website and added an FAQ section as answer to the public’s questions. Then they suddenly removed the FAQ section again.
What is going on?
A round-robin email from the developers last week indicated there would be a second exhibition and consultation in Oct . The Friends want to know – is this a whole new consultation process or part of the old one? Will our letters and feedback from the first exhibitions count? How will they process this information? How can they hope to put in a formal application by the end of the year when they still haven’t told the general public what the consultation dates even are?
Why Everyone Needs to Understand the Process
We think the rules need to be clarified and the developers and the general public need to be clear on the process for any consultation to be useful and productive.
Otherwise, the general public will feel that they are being required to send in lots of different responses to lots of different plans over an unspecified period of time, without knowing who – if anyone – will listen.
We would like the rules cleared up.
From the feedback the Friends have been getting this consultation has got off to a terrible start.
The Friends would like to have open and honest dialogue with the developers on behalf of our members. We understand that this process is fairly new to everyone and that it may take some fine-tuning, but the above questions need to be addressed, and soon, so that our members and the general public at large can feel confident that this process is about proper consultation and not just a PR exercise.
* We are not allowed to submit any complaints about the proposed development itself to the council. The proposals have not been submitted to the planning department, so any of our views about the proposals should go to the developer.