I had my first visit to Petitions Committee today, in support of Craiglockhart Community Council’s call for action on Redhall House, an eighteenth century, B-listed, property which has been empty for over 6 years now and is on the Buildings at Risk Register.
The house, formerly a care home and training centre, was sold by the City Council in December 2007, for £1.734 million, with the condition that, within two years, it be developed as a home or flats.
The owners are the Gold Brothers, who own a number of properties and businesses around Edinburgh, most notably in the Old Town. They obtained planning permission in 2008 for conversion to six flats but that consent has now expired.
Nothing has happened. The building has suffered fire, break-ins, graffiti and the usual predations of the weather. The owners have been fairly open that they would prefer to get consent to build on the protected lawn area, part of the setting of the listed building, in order, they argue, to offset the costs of renovation.
(Below – Redhall House, as it was, across the protected lawn: thanks to Noel Chidwick for photo)
The community council has been admirably persistent in pushing the council to get onto the owners whenever a repair needs done; and has shown real stamina in seeking clarity from the council as to when the developers will be held to the conditions of sale.
Sadly, almost four years after the house should have been renovated, it still stands empty. That is why the community council decided to take a petition to the City Council Petitions Committee, which is chaired by my colleague, Maggie Chapman. When first mooted I thought it could reach the 250 signature threshold needed for local petitions – just. In fact, it met, and exceeded, the 500 threshold for all petitions – testimony to the hard work of the community council but also to the affection in the area for older buildings.
The petition was heard today – with contributions from the petitioners and myself as ward councillor, followed by some very searching and supportive questions from Committee members to council officers. It would be fair to say that it won’t have been the most comfortable meeting ever faced by those officers but there can be no illusions that councillors are critical of a real lack of momentum in holding developers to what they said they would do.
Unfortunately, for the sake of the meeting, there are some legal matters that are still being investigated and could not be disclosed at an open, public meeting. So the matter was referred to the March Finance and Resources Committee (on which, happily, I sit) with a set of specific matters to be pursued in a report with:
• The outcome of a further meeting to be held with the site owners to clarify intentions.
• The history of the site and engagement with owners so far
• The legal position as regards conditions imposed at time of sale
• A forward plan with a timeline for bringing the matter to a conclusion
• Lessons learned for other such properties
We are not yet in the endgame for Redhall House but I believe that the community feels vindicated in its frustration and I’d expect to see a step change in how we are making sure the house is once again an asset of which Craiglockhart can be proud.