Saving Redhall House

Green councillor Gavin Corbett spoke at today’s planning committee hearing which backed fellow Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw in rejecting plans to build 8 mews homes as an “enabling development next to the 18th century B-listed Redhall House.  This is what Gavin said:

Thanks to the committee for allowing me to speak. I should also say that while my ward colleague Andrew Burns has a longstanding other commitment which means he cannot be here, he has asked me to say that he very much agrees with the general argument and overall conclusion that David and I will put today. So all 3 ward councillors take a similar view on what we hope the committee will do with this application.

In turn for saying that I have asked Andrew to borrow one of the five minutes that he otherwise would have had, so I may be a little over my allotted 5 minutes. I hope you will indulge me in that.

I want to cover 3 key points:

Firstly, that there are significant material planning grounds for refusing this application. These include design, and transport and ecology impacts, but in particular, the archaeology assessment which concludes that the development “will have a significant adverse impact on the setting of this historic building.”

The building of 8 mews homes is significantly contrary to the 2004 Development Brief for the site.

But, what we are told is that an enabling case should override that. Now enabling development is still relatively untested and it is almost two years since we last sat here and looked at the enabling case on a much larger scale for the Craighouse site on Easter Craiglockhart Hill. Since that time not one slate, not one stone, of the A-listed buildings at Craighouse has yet been preserved. So I know members will want to examine so-called enabling cases extremely closely.

The test for enabling development is that complementary development of the 8 mews homes is the ONLY option available and it is the minimum necessary.

As the officers’ report says, that has not been demonstrated. On page 8 it says “No analysis has been provided by the applicant regarding whether or not it would be possible to utilise the building for an alternative use.”

Instead, what the situation presents is two main scenarios – one to renovate Redhall House alone, without enabling development and two, renovate Redhall House with an additional 8 mews houses built in the protected grounds. Both scenarios are argued to make a loss. The only difference is the scale of loss.

This is not credible. Giving permission for a loss-making “enabling scheme” today inevitably invites a fresh application for yet more new homes tomorrow – on the grounds of supposed viability – and having already granted permission for 8 new homes, the committee won’t have a leg to stand on to contemplate refusal of further development.

However, let’s look at the way the financial justification has been set out.

Quite correctly, it removes the land price of £1.734 million from the equation. Indeed, we are told by the agent himself that “the applicant accepts that he will not recoup the costs of the purchase of Redhall House.” In other words, he is resigned to losing out on overpaying for the house in 2007.

So, once that purchase price is stripped out, it is clear that the net profit on the scheme which involves 8 mews houses is £600,000. More importantly, the scheme to renovate Redhall House alone makes only a very marginal net loss of £50,000.

However, even that small loss may not be necessary. The financial justification has been independently assessed BUT only on the cost side. No independent assessment has been carried out of the credibility of the projected sales values which, almost inevitably are kept low to support the applicant’s case. Without that assessment, our officers are quite wrong to conclude that the financial case stacks up.

Indeed if the projected sales values were upped by only 3% the renovation of Redhall House on its own would return a small profit.

And that is not even taking into account the fact that the reason Redhall House is costing so much to renovate is because the developer has neglected it for almost a decade.

So, thirdly, where does that leave us? If the committee refuses the application, does that not just take us back to square one, with a long term empty building deteriorating still further?

No. There are very different circumstances here which means that the council does have other options. As the seller of Redhall House back in 2007 it put in as a condition of sale, a legal condition, that the property be brought back into use by March 2010. While that condition has not yet been exercised, legal action has been entered in the Court of Session in early 2015 to enforce that condition. Should the planning committee refuse the application in front of you today that leaves the applicant perfectly free to implement the planning consent he already has for Redhall House, secured in 2008. And if he doesn’t do so, the council has solid and enforceable legal grounds for making him do so.

So, in summary

Redhall House should be brought into use through its conversion into flats without any enabling development.

Redhall House can be brought into use without any enabling development

And the Council has the legal means to ensure that Redhall House will be brought back into use without any enabling development.

This is a crucial test of planning policy credibility. Whether to accept that the job of the planning system is to watch a developer vastly overpay for a property and then preside over almost a decade of negligence; and then expect the planning system to bail him out, knowing that other developers will be watching in the wings and expect the same indulgence. Or to hold firm to the planning policy for the area, to respect the views of local residents, and to have the conviction to require the applicant to stick to the legal terms of sale he signed up to back in 2007.

Please let’s do the right thing.