- If Napier received millions of pounds in grant funding to maintain the beautiful Craighouse site for the public use, why is it now involved in a secretive property development consortium?
- What is Napier’s financial interest in the development at Craighouse?
- Is Napier acting as a property developer?
- Is the sale of Craighouse in the public interest?
The Craighouse Partnership: Introduction
We are bringing you a series of articles about the main players in the Craighouse Partnership and who now owns the site at Craighouse.
This should be simple, yes? Unfortunately not. However, we have done our best to break it down as simply as possible for anyone who is (quite rightly) confused. So, please stick with it.
There is a great deal of confusion about who owns the site and who the “developers” actually are. Most of you may be familiar with the frontsman of the Craighouse Partnership, William Gray Muir, from Sundial Properties and many people have come to believe the owner of the site and initiator of the project is therefore Sundial Properties. This is window dressing.
It is clear from the emails between Napier and Mountgrange, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, that Sundial were brought onto this project much later in the day – and are simply a contractor for Mountgrange that could drop out of the project at any time. The bidder and initiator of the project was Mountgrange, not Sundial. We will be examining Mountgrange in a separate article later, but first, let’s try to answer an apparently simple question:
Who are the Craighouse Partnership?
In the original briefing from Napier to the press, the Craighouse Partnership was stated to be Mountgrange Real Estate Opportunity Fund, Sundial Properties and the now infamous LA&P (more about them here).
Napier University was not mentioned as being part of the Partnership, however was going to be “an active partner” in the planning process – for reasons that mystified many, ourselves included.
What is Napier’s Involvement?
The question of Napier’s involvement was brought up soon after the exhibitions when MP Ian Murray held a coffee morning at the Open Door for residents to talk to him about two issues: parking and Craighouse. The Open Door was swamped. There were so many people, they could not accommodate them all and Ian Murray was forced to stay on after the meeting to separately talk to everyone who had been unable to squeeze in.
Craighouse dominated the agenda. Amongst the questions residents wanted to know was what was the retained financial interest of Napier in this development?
Ian Murray held a meeting with the developers. The resultant letter from Ian Murray distributed widely to local residents clearly said the developers:
“explained there was no retained financial interest in the site by the Council, NHS or Napier.”
However, by late last year, the listing of the companies who made up the Craighouse Partnership had changed.
Suddenly, LA&P disappeared from the scene and The Craighouse Partnership instead stated the following:
What is the Craighouse Partnership?
The partnership comprises local Edinburgh company, Sundial Properties, Mountgrange Real Estate Opportunity Fund and Edinburgh Napier University (ENU).
Why were Napier suddenly listed as part of The Craighouse Partnership?
At our recent meeting with William Gray Muir of Sundial Properties and Mark Cummings of Invicta PA, the lobbyist who represents Mountgrange, we asked for clarity on this issue and it was confirmed that Napier did indeed retain a financial interest in the site and that this was stated in small-print on one of the exhibition boards:
Craighouse Limited acquired the site in early 2011 through an open tendering process, although Napier University still retain a financial interest in the site.
So why was Ian Murray given a different answer?
Indeed, it transpires – again, contrary to what some have been told – that Mountgrange was one of a number of bidders for Craighouse. Six in all. An email from the Director of Property and Facilities at Napier University, acquired through a Freedom of Information request, lists a number of the other bidders as being desirable purchasers for reasons ranging from good reputation to likely competitiveness of offer. It is curious, therefore, as to why Napier chose Mountgrange of all the bidders, despite it being one of the bidders not highlighted.
The fact that Napier has a retained financial interest perhaps begins to make sense of some of Principal Joan Stringer’s somewhat contradictory statements about the development. She stated that Napier see themselves as “custodians” of the site and that any new-build will be “discretely placed” and on areas advised by the conservation audit undertaken for Napier University by Craighouse Partnership architects, Simpson and Brown. She wrote in an email to a member of the Friends:
“The Partnership’s initial proposals are consistent with the areas identified as suitable for development in the conservation audit by Simpson & Brown” (Joan Stringer, Principal of Napier)
We would like to ask how building three-storey new build across the most highly visible part of the site (the orchard) constitutes “discreet”?
The orchard was not identified as an area suitable for development in the Simpson and Brown Conservation Audit. Indeed, the report said that the orchard, along with the open lawns, constituted one of “the most important elements of the landscape” with views “spectacular, almost unrivalled within Edinburgh” and that they SHOULD NOT CHANGE.
Waste of Public Money?
Napier bought the site for £9 million, nearly twenty years ago.
They have received millions of pounds (£14 million) in grant funding, largely from Historic Scotland due to its importance to our Scottish heritage – much of which will have been used to convert the building to institutional use
Joan Stringer, Napier’s Principal, spent £170,000 just on refurbishing her own office!
Why are Napier now offloading the site, under-value, in a depressed market?
And if they can do this at Craighouse – what does the future hold for the Craiglockhart campus? Why will Napier want to maintain an outpost at Craiglockhart when it is developing the site at Sighthill?
Far from acting as custodians of the site and transparent to the general public, it now looks as though our public institutions are acting like property developers.
The site at Craighouse is vitally important to Edinburgh’s heritage and future. If this highly protected and much-loved site is taken over by the excessive new-build of property developers, the rest of Edinburgh’s most beautiful sites and green spaces could fall to the same fate.
We think it’s about time Napier came clean with the general public about their real interests in this development.