Saturday, 24 December 2011

Seasons greetings!

On Thursday 22nd December Edinburgh Council voted through the unconditional sale of land to Artisan.
This now allows the developer to proceed with demolitions of listed buildings and homes in the World Heritage Site, despite calls from UNESCO to seek modifications to the plans following their vistit and after Mountgrange went into administration.

Meanwhile Cllr Jim Lowrie attended award ceremony for a group of teenagers who have just completed training in heritage building skills saying
"Well done to all the pupils who have passed their heritage skills training. This is an inspiring and worthwhile course that is equipping young people with important skills that will help protect our historic buildings into the future."

What a pity Cllr Lowrie and his fellow councillor Buccanan didnt think of protecting historic buildings when they encouraged their party members to vote to sell of our assets just 2 days ago!

Developers Artisan are expected to reveal ammended plans in the New Year.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Communities speak up

OTCC will present their deputation to council this morning requsting members pause and reflect on the mistakes made by previous council

" The future of our city and how we protect and develop it will certainly be high on the
agenda at the coming elections.
This council was limited in its ability to respond to the failure of the Caltongate
scheme during the start of the recession by being locked into a land deal with
Mountgrange secured by the previous administration and left to the mercy of the
banks to control the use or sale of public assets.
By agreeing this sale and giving Artisan an unconditional option to progress this
development investment, you (Councillors) will again tie the hands of any incoming
council to respond to new opportunities, policies and plans.
It is undemocratic for officials to rush a decision on this land sale at a pre Christmas
committee without affording time for councillors and the community to scrutinise the
details of this offer or consider alternatives."

The Splashback campaign will also be presenting a deputation urging the council to NOT close Leith Waterworld

You can follow the debate on Caltongate and Leithwaterworld live with @STVEdinburgh on twitter 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

New developers speak out

It seems that new plans are definitely being considered but they are still secret!
 Lukas Nakos, who heads up both MAS plc and Artisan the company seeking to buy up council assets is quoted on Moneyweb saying

"We will be working in close partnership with the City of Edinburgh and local stakeholders to move forward quickly with development plans in 2012. Although a high-quality development, it will be less ambitious than originally conceived and will be well-attuned to the present economic climate,"

However to date the new developer has not approached any of the local stakeholders including the Old Town Community Council which he refers to in this interview

How on earth can the council agree to sell valuable public assets to a developer who wants to keep their development plans secret. Surely any decision to sell must be justified as being of benefit to the city and how can the benefits be assessed when no plans or projected timescales are provided.

SOOT and the Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust will be supporting the Old Town Community Council who intend to present a deputation tomorrow calling on Councillors to delay making any decision on the sale of land until a thorough assessment can be made of the developers proposed plans and predicted timescales for development and equal opportunity given to other interested parties to submit any alternative proposals.

This cart before the horse developer led planning is what caused Caltongate to fail so badly in planning and architectural terms, and what caused the deterioration and neglect of the area following Mountgrange going bust, as the council lost control over the use of assets.
For Council officers to rush approval of a unconditional discounted sale past councillors days before Christmas based on a very brief report which contains no confirmed details on the developer or the proposed development is hardly democratic decision making. The decision if taken now could also become a significant burden on any new Councillors or Administration elected in May (and could influence how people vote)

If the plans are to be reviewed or revived lets allow some mature open discussion with the community about how to insure this developer actually delivers more than a big hole!
SOOT have called for supporters to come along to the City Chambers tomorrow morning before the meeting which starts at 10am

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Heritage bodies speak out about Caltongate

The news of the Caltongate revival has caused many heritage professionals to restate their opposition to the scheme and remind us of the advice provided by UNESCO during their visit to Edinburgh, warning the Council that this is effectively a 'slap in the face'

SOOT have called on other groups and objectors to join them from 9am on Thursday morning outside the Council Chambers - the Full Council meeting starts at 10am - and to write to their councillors and MSPs and ask them to support the local community who needs these valuable assets to be retained and brought back to productive use.

Whilst we agree with the concerns raised about the World Heritage Site status, it was clear form the original planning procedure that many of some of our existing councillors care little about UNESCO's opinion as seen in this video

The Waverley Valley Regeneration - Caltongate Report is now available to the public and it is proposed to sell the land and houses to the developers Artisan, selling the 9 council flats for £100,000 each. The report also proposes council support for compulsory purchase powers to acquire 2 busy local business premises also earmarked for demolition.

Its time Edinburgh woke up to the changing economic environment and look for new  ideas and opportunities to support community ownership and management of assets

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dinna sell the Old Town to build a big Hotel

News just out today that Caltongate is back has put a black cloud over Christmas in the Canongate.
It has been pointed out several times that the speculative scheme drafted by Mountgrange was not only environmentally unsustainable but not economically viable either, so why try to revive this hideous development by giving away public assets and common good land to developers when these assets are needed by the community?

The Mary Portas Report published yesterday highlighted the need to re energise our existing high streets and support small and new business and to reconnect places with community. The Council have themselves identified the pressing need to provide affordable workspace in our city, yet community led proposals for bringing Canongate Venture back to use have been dismissed without any discussion.

Since Mountgrange went into administration there has been many who have visited the site and who, from a 'professional' perspective acknowledge that the Caltongate plans were a well publicised fantasy which never had any real substance to them and actually have been the cause of severe blight to the area.

(A visit from The Academy of Urbanism in April 2010)

Despite the council embracing processes of 'community engagement' in planning, recent consultations with the community have demonstrated that the views of community and heritage groups do not matter and that there has been no real change.
To date the council have provided no real justification for selling off these valuable assets, the details of the land dealings were hidden behind the "commercial confidentiality" excuses for years until eventually exposed through FoI requests shortly before the Caltongate plans were deemed "toxic" by the banks.

Surely now is the time to invest in community assets not have them striped by developers for a quick profit. 

Now is the time to reclaim the debts to the council incurred by Mountgranges actions (lost revenue for council flat rents, council tax arrears, repair and repainting to the gapsite hoardings) from the administrators.

Dinna sell The Old Town for the false promises of riches to come from yet another hotel development.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Empty Homes Scandal

This week Channel 4 launched its series highlighting The Great British Property Scandal where thousands of empty homes across the UK lie deteriorating whilst thousands are homeless.

Here in Edinburgh the ongoing farce of Caltongate continues with  Councillor Tom Buchanan repeating his 'we're close to a deal' mantra. In responding to the scandal of the waste of the empty McRae flats, reported in the Evening News, he said

“It is disappointing that we are not able to make revenue from rental property on the High Street but we have been working with the administrator to make sure a new owner takes over Caltongate and develops the site. There is a developer that is close to going public on a deal.”

The council owned McRae flats clearly need to be put back to use. Perhaps this Channel 4 led campaign will inspire our Scottish Government to push for action on the more sustainable reuse rather than demolition of buildings as debated recently in Parliament (you can watch the debate from Holyrood here)

CEC have a great opportunity to take a lead on recent thinking (instead of continuing to follow failed economic plans) by reusing all the council owned buildings earmarked for demolition in the Caltongate plans (Canongate Venture, the flats, the market building and the arches) and by persuading any potential developer of the gapsite left by Mountgrange to also refurbish the private flats and bring all of them and the Ark building back into use

Recently action has been taken to occupy the former Forest Cafe as a community space however as there are no squatting rights in Scotland it will be interesting to see how quickly they are removed by the administrators!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Old Town Lights Up

Its that time of year again and tomorrow the Edinburgh Winter festival is launched with Princes St's lighting up event.
The switch on of the festive lights in the Canongate will take place on Wednesday 30th November at 6pm at Chessel's Court.

So why not come along and join local residents for some christmas cheer!
Step away from the mobbed shopping centres and commercial activity and gather with the local community to welcome in the yuletide.

Along with live performances from Candice, enjoy a little mulled wine or mincepie and even partake in a little carol singing as we celebrate lighting up Edinburgh’s old town.

So remember....
**30th NOVEMBER**

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Council calling for residents views!

The Council is embarking on a project looking at the Royal Mile. This is one of the strands that emerged from the consultation process which was a key part of the Southern Arc Area Development Framework. The purpose of the study is to see if they can collectively identify improvements to the street – how it is used and managed, how the traffic flows, how the residents and business use it, etc.  

It is very important that they understand the key issues for all the different groups who have an involvement with the street. They also need to ensure that they have identified and gathered all relevant background information from those who have real knowledge of the place

Residents in and around the Royal Mile are an important group whose views we wish to collect, and they would like to invite the local community and residents’ groups and their members to participate in a focus group, on Tuesday 8th November

The focus group will run from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, and will be held at the Council offices, Waverley Court, on East Market Street.  If you live in or around the Royal Mile (from the castle to Abbeyhill) please help ensure residents views are heard and contact Alison Morris at CEC to book a place.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hotels NOT Homes?

Why does Edinburgh Council insist on creating more hotels in the Old Town when what is needed is some HOUSING!
Last week the Evening News announced that a large redevelopment site (which was approved for mixed uses (including 80 flats) around Cockburn St and Advocates Close has been changed to a large hotel complex with serviced apartments. This was approved as a 'variation' to the existing consent rather than a new application and therefore went by fairly unnoticed and the development is now well underway.
The loss of regular housing to holiday and student accommodation is reaching crisis point!
What is the council doing to stem the loss of longer term residents and families from the Old Town? Much lip-service is given to the importance of Edinburgh being a LIVABLE city but prioritising tourist and students needs over more permanent residents cannot be sustainable.

 Over the last 10 years we have seen the Old Town streets turned from a mix of housing , quality shops, independent traders and businesses to tartan tat, tourist accommodation, sandwich shops and cafes through sloppy planning and uncontrolled 'economic developmet' (as long as the rent goes up it good!) Now the residential sector in the Old Town is headed in the same direction.

Whilst Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government celebrate the development of more council housing for Edinburgh, no support is given to even general housing in the City Centre.

Last week also saw the submission of a revised planning application for the Fire Site on Cowgate. Out with the Allan Murray designs for SOCO and in with a new plan, although it doesn't seem to have improved much. Here is an opportunity to create some good city centre housing for rent through the council or one of the housing associations in line with the council's original development brief for the site, rather than revised plan for another massive hotel.

The application is now live and you can submit your comments and look at the plans in more detail here

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Canongate Venture Opens....but for how long?

At last we finally saw some enlightened thinking from the Council with respect to the use of Canongate Venture this summer. After years of enforced vacancy the building was let to a London based group for an Art exhibition during The Edinburgh Art Festival 
Tamsyn Challenger's 400 Women exhibition finishes on Sunday 4th Sept so if you haven't had a chance to visit during the fringe, you still have a few days left.
In addition to the thought provoking work displayed a visit to the exhibition also provides an opportunity to visit this important but neglected listed building and consider what other uses could be provided for in the community. Although the playground has been cleaned and locked (pedestrian gate open from 11am -7pm during exhibition) and all guerrilla gardening removed the curators have chosen to leave the internal condition as they found it showing the damage caused by neglect and enforced vacancy over the last few years.

Recent research on the cultural heritage of this local school has found that it played a key role in the development of public education policy in the UK. The poverty and poor health of the children attending in the early 1900s prompted investigations by a Commission which led directly to the Education Act of 1908 called “the Childrens’ Charter”.
In 1918 it was visited by Abdul Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i faith who was impressed with the dedication of the teachers.

Many local groups have already shown an interest in using or supporting the reuse of the building for cultural and community uses, including Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust, Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, Remade Edinburgh, SOOT Edinburgh Cockburn Association Old Town Community Council 

Lets hope the Council are finally considering responding to demands for the reuse of this building expressed most recently during the consultation by the Council on the Southern Arc Development Framework which looks at the wider area around the Old Town and how to improve the environment for the whole community. 

During the last charette of this consultation suggestions for temporary projects included the use of empty buildings and the gapsite for festival fringe venues, events and markets, artisan workspaces, art projects, graffiti walls and garden festivals.
To date no decision has been taken regarding these but the opportunity now exists to express support for the retention of this community asset. 

What would YOU like to see happen at New Street - the revival of Caltongate for a new developer or the retention of Canongate Venture for community use and a range of temporary uses for the gapsite whilst a more appropriate new development can be agreed? Please leave comments and suggestions below.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Caltongate is back!

Bad news today that Caltongate is back on the cards.

Todays article in the Evening News clearly contradicts the committment made by Edinburgh Council who last year agreed at their Economic Development Committee to withdraw all assets from the Caltongate deal as

"The PDS (Physical Development Support) team will now attempt a new regeneration
approach which will see two new mixed use buildings at the corners of
Cranston Street and East Market Street as well as the revitalisation of Market
Street arches. The former Caltongate School, which is listed, would not be

The Caltongate scheme and the associated land sales by the council have been widely critisised since its inception by community, heritage and architectural groups as unsympathetic, unsustainable and illegal! Following the report last year that an alternative approach would be undertaken, some believed that a more mature and transparant debate could be had on the future development of the Gapsite and the renewed use of empty buildings. 

Unfortunately it looks like despite the recognition that the recession is a direct result of the bursting of an unsustainable property bubble, CEC's Economic Development department are continuing with 'business as usual' so now are busy working a deal up to accommodate whichever developer the Administrators choose. It seems any alternative schemes and proposals will be overlooked as CEC Planners are too scared to chance discussion on further planning applications or support the community's calls for retaining and reusing public assets.