You may have seen the Evening News article published yesterday.
Ever since the letter from John Bury, Head of Planning, was sent to local residents, stating that the site had been closed to the public before Napier and that the developers are under “no obligation” to retain free access to the historic beauty spot, the Friends have been receiving emails of protest.
Bury’s remarks formed part of a letter sent by the Head of Planning to MP Ian Murray, which was circulated widely to local residents. In it, Bury says:
“The site, when it was owned by the NHS, and prior to being taken over by Napier, was closed to the public and it is only since the 1990s that the university made it freely accessible to the public. The developers, who have bought the site, are under no obligation to continue to allow free access” John Bury, Head of Planning
“It would appear that the Planning Department is acting as PR agents for the developers,” says long-time local resident, Derek Brogan, adding that access to the site is long-standing and has always existed since he moved into the area in the 70s. Here is part of his letter to the Friends:
“I moved to […address removed…] in June of 1974 and enjoyed walking in the grounds of Craighouse known then as The Thomas Clouston Clinic and was welcomed by staff and patients especially if you had a dog. In fact we were encouraged to introduce our dogs to the patients as a form of therapy. I can’t remember all the patients’ names but some would carry dog biscuits to give as treats to our dogs while others would sit on the benches and chat to you for hours. Some were very articulate with very interesting stories to tell. There was one patient who was always at his window near the Ian Tomlin School of Music each morning and tea time when I took my dog for a walk who would wait to wave to me each day.”
I and other Friends’ representatives are stopped wherever we go by local residents telling us how they have been freely using the site for decades. Many local people were even on first name terms with the staff and patients when the site was a hospital. I was told one patient was so popular he had three hundred people at his funeral! People have told me how they learned to ride their bikes in the grounds as children in the 80s. We had two elderly residents who attended the Photo on the Hill, who have been walking there for over 30 years.
Closed to the public before Napier?
Here are just a few quotes from local residents:
“Craighouse was part of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital there were no restrictions on public access. The grounds and woods were used by dog walkers, and local children knew all the best places for collecting conkers.” Pat Constable, local resident.
“My family moved up to the area in 1959 and I (/we) have used the (former) Craighouse hospital grounds for leisure purposes since then. I used to walk through the grounds of Craighouse, occasionally the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (“West House”) and often the Astley Ainslie’ on my way home from George Watson’s College…My friends and I often cycled around these estates in the course of playing. The spokes-being from the council has not got a clue and so far as I am aware the only hospital grounds which traditionally have/had any form of restricted access are those of secure mental hospitals such as Carstairs State Mental Hospital. Even the more reclusive establishments as per Gogarburn and Rosslynlee hospitals had a public freedom to roam policy” Ken Grant, local resident
“We moved to Craighouse Terrace in November 1969 with three small children. We used the grounds for walks, sledging, collecting windfalls for apple jelly. Our children learned to play tennis on the two courts which were situated where the car park is now. Now our grandchildren love the grounds as much as their parents did and future generations of children should have the same opportunities.” Marjory Dodd, local resident
“I have lived close to Craighouse for 26 years and am astounded by recent claims that public access has only been granted since the site was purchased by Napier. Throughout those 26 years I have enjoyed unrestricted access to all areas of the site. Likewise, throughout that period significant numbers of the public have also enjoyed the same access, utilising the open green spaces and woodland, as well as the formal and informal pathways which criss-cross the site. Preservation of all these recreational areas and the existing level of access is crucial to the well being of the people who enjoy it now and who will enjoy it in future.” Graham Cameron, local resident
Bury has tried to dampen the outrage by issuing another letter in which he fails to correct the misinformation about access before Napier and says:
“Any discussions taking place are seeking to ensure that there is public accessibility into the grounds at Craighouse” … “We are working with the developers to ensure that ongoing public access forms a key part of the proposals”
The Friends and the local community who are expressing their anger to us are not satisfied with the complete failure to correct misinformation and what looks like an official fudge about an issue of such crucial importance to local people and the wider community of Edinburgh.
Treasurer of the Friends, Andrew Richards, says,
“I brought up the issues of the inaccuracies in John Bury’s letter with officials from Edinburgh Council’s planning department. I then expected John Bury to correct his statement about access in the past and state the council’s policies on access in planning applications. Instead, he did not correct his statement about past access, and did not state any of Edinburgh Council’s policies on access.”
Not only has John Bury put out and failed to correct a statement that is in contradiction to the experience of the local community, they are now talking about access as though it is negotiable. This is Scotland, a country with a proud tradition on public access rights. You can’t overthrow decades of free public access and the planners should not be allowing the developers to use it as a bargaining chip to push excessive new build across the site.
The planning department should be upholding policy and looking out for the public good – not making unsubstantiated statements that appear to push the developer’s agenda for them. This is particularly disappointing at a time when the local community is putting its faith in its public officials.
We call upon John Bury to correct his statement.