Craighouse: judgement day

The long-running battle over development at Craighouse on Easter Craiglockhart Hill finally reached planning committee today with the committee granting consent 9-6 in favour. Local Green councillor, Gavin Corbett, joined Green councillors Melanie Main and Nigel Bagshaw and Green MSP Alison Johnstone in voicing opposition at the hearing. His speech is below.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak today.

I do so as both a local councillor, elected to reflect the views of people in the area and as a local resident myself, as someone who has taken my children at every age and in every season up through the pathways onto the hill – sledging, rolling Easter eggs, practising maps and compass skills, walking or just enjoying the spectacular views. As for many people here it is a very special place.

But it is not just my feelings, is it? Craighouse is not just special to me or to everyone else here today. It is special to the city. That is why its buildings are A-listed, why it’s in a conservation area, why its views are protected and its natural heritage. It is hard to think of many other sites with as many protections.

The developers acknowledge this. Their case to you is that the viable use of the listed buildings depends on being given permission to build 81 new homes, setting aside many of the protections which are on the site.

And the report in front of us makes clear that the proposal is contrary to policy. Not just one policy or two policies – but 8 policies Des 1, 3 and 10, Env 3, 6, 11 and 12 and OS1. That’s policies on listed buildings, open space, conservation, natural heritage, landscape. And so on and so on.

So there are a host of clear planning grounds to turn this proposal down

But the developers argue that you should set all of this aside for the enabling case. The enabling case is what matters. And I am absolutely convinced that the enabling case simply has not been made.

According to the enabling guidance:

“Enabling development MAY be acceptable where it can be clearly shown to be the ONLY means of preventing the loss of the asset and securing its long-term future. Any development should be the MINIMUM necessary to achieve these aims”

So is it the ONLY option. And is it the MINIMUM necessary?

Let me take the second question first. The proposal isn’t the minimum amount of development necessary to secure the future of the listed buildings – it is the minimum amount of development which allows a profit of £14.6 million to be made. Indeed, the profit could be much more than that if you accept that artificially low sales prices have been used.

Let’s just repeat that: the enabling case – the case for setting aside all those planning protections – is actually a case to protect a developer profit of £14.6 million.

That leads to the other point. Is what we have before us the only option? Well if your world outlook starts from the point of view that you have to make a £14.6 million profit, I suppose that does appear to constrict the choices. It makes you view the existing buildings – especially the sprawl of New Craig – as a beautiful but expensive liability.

But what if you turned that round? What if you genuinely focused in on what makes Craighouse special and used that as an asset: the setting, the communal space, the community affection, the views, the rich natural heritage and developed a mixed use business model? What if you applied more realistic sales values in what is, after all, a rising housing market?

You would find that Craighouse can indeed be profitably developed without running roughshod over all of the planning protections.

So the enabling case before you is a product of a specific business model; a specific way of thinking about development. It is most certainly NOT the only option.

The decision you take today is high risk but not in the way that is often claimed. The risk is not of refusal and subsequent decay but of granting consent to a model of development that is so untested that officials have had to draw on English Heritage guidance to scrutinise it; and a specific case that falls apart under any reasonable scrutiny.

So I conclude in 3 ways: firstly, that the material grounds for refusal are numerous and significant; secondly, that the case for enabling development is neither the only nor the minimum amount of development necessary; and thirdly what we have before us is a proposition which is as untested as it is weak.

This is not only about the future of Craighouse; it is about the credibility of our planning system.