Planners and councillors voting for the Craighouse planning consent said they did so because it was the “minimum necessary to fund the long term future use of the category A listed buildings”. However, they had so little confidence in their own argument, they argued it in secret before the planning meeting and blocked anyone from presenting alternatives. In particular, Councillor Ian Perry, the convenor of the committee, asked officials to tell his fellow Labour councillors on the committee not to meet Friends of Craighouse to hear alternatives to Mountgrange’s proposals. When we did present our plans at the planning hearing in front of councillors, Ian Perry interrupts (before our allotted time is finished) to stop the figures being presented to councillors. Our presentation on alternative plans for the site is the only presentation Ian Perry interrupts and argues with before the time is up.
Clearly, Ian Perry and his officials had no confidence that their analysis of the financial argument for the Craighouse development would stand up to any scrutiny. So they ensured that councillors on the committee got no chance to hear any alternatives and that what officials said would be kept secret. Given that the figures produced by the Craighouse Partnership showed that the buildings were larger on the inside than the outside, it is not hard to see why Ian Perry and his officials had little confidence in their case. What is strange is: why would Ian Perry and officials be blocking alternatives and arguing the developer’s case in secret when it is the job of the developer to put their case for the developer’s financial benefit?
It started when Friends of Craighouse submitted a detailed financial rebuttal to the Scheme 2 application. We pointed out a series of mistakes in the figures, including that they had clearly impossible figures for the net and gross internal areas. We also pointed out the considerable financial contribution that the weddings business in New Craig could make to the long term viability of the site. Then scheme 3 went in, with net and gross internal area figures still impossibly wrong. Before the planning hearing, we worked with local business people, a bank and community buyout experts to put together a community plan to save the site. Given that the argument for the planning consent is that there is “no alternative” to saving the buildings, we put together an alternative. We then asked councillors on the planning committee to come to our presentation of the plans. Ian Perry obtained written advice to his fellow Labour councillors on the planning committee telling them not to hear our plans. This email, which we have, told councillors that attending a briefing where “untested alternatives are presented and the developer is not present” could bring the councillors’ “impartiality into question”. However, the Councillors Code of Conduct says that councillors on the committee should seek out alternative representations, from all sides, but not come to a decision until all the facts have been presented in the hearing. It is clear that officials were not wanting councillors to hear the side of the community and not wanting people to point out that their own figures have obvious errors in them.
In fact, the officials even wrote to councillors that following “due process” means basing decisions only on “the report and recommendations of the Head of Planning”. Officials are telling councillors that they should only base their decisions on what the Head of Planning tells them and not any other opinions, facts or advice. This is most definitely not what the law and Councillors Code of Conduct says. Ian Perry, as an experienced councillor, should know this.
A few days before the hearing, new figures were put into the application with the silly internal area errors corrected, but without correcting the nonsense valuations (A-listed buildings below average value for the area?) or the claims that a weddings business in New Craig would generate less than 7% profit, even if the building was provided for free with zero rent.
Given that we had not been able to present alternative plans to councillors before the hearing, we requested to present the plans at the hearing. Despite the fact that enabling development says the developer has to prove there is no alternative, officials denied us the any time to present alternatives. The only time available to discuss alternatives was given by Morningside and Merchiston community councils, but this time was interrupted by Ian Perry.
Then, we come to the hearing. The whole hearing was videoed, so you can see what happens next. Ian Perry tells the public that there is “something we need to sort out before we start the meeting”. All the councillors then disappear into another room. When they come back Ian Perry simply says “Sorry I apologise for that”. No explanation is given of what has happened. However, we later find out that this is where officials present the financial case for the development to the councillors. This is the only argument for the planning application, on all the other policy grounds the application would have to be turned down. But this is argued totally in secret. We are not even told this is what has been discussed. There are no minutes of this part of the meeting. In fact, Ian Perry’s only description is that the secret meeting is “before we start the meeting”. So, it doesn’t even form part of the planning hearing! It’s a private lobbying session by officials. It’s precisely this type of private briefing that the officials previously said that the councillors should not use to form their decision. So, the view of officials is that officials can have private briefings with councillors, but the public cannot.
It was clear to many of those watching the hearing that Ian Perry had made up his mind to grant the application before the hearing started. It is clear from his actions: interrupting our detailed arguments, blocking us presenting to Labour councillors and holding all arguments in favour of the development in secret. The whole hearing was stage managed to ensure that the decision-makers were never presented with any factual challenge to the nonsense being presented to them.