Ross McEwan explains why public consultation on the Granton Sur Mer project is going ahead even though the City Council plans to sell the land to another developer.
Why do developers want to buy city council assets?
It is quite simple really. Without the land as an asset, no-one, and that includes community groups and developers, can raise capital or receive lottery funding for projects.
But why then does the City of Edinburgh Council do everything in its power to prevent Granton sur Mer from either buying the land or having it gifted to the community of North Edinburgh?
The cynical answer to that is that the City of Edinburgh Council are running scared of being shown to have failed miserably in their attempts at regeneration of the Waterfront through land sales to greedy housing developers.
There is nearly nothing to show for the millions in revenue except empty, windswept, desolate, dysfunctional housing blocks that are already having to be reclad and engulfed in scaffolding again.
It has now been nearly three years since we first tabled our initial ideas about how to retain the walled garden site at Granton as a valuable green space.
The City’s development company Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd acquired the walled garden in 2004 from its then owner, Mr Smith.
They paid a princely sum of around £600,000, and they then went about getting planning permission for 17 ‘townhouses’ in the walled garden and 37 ‘townhouses’ on adjacent land, paid architects fees of about £250k and so the cost to the council for “development to sell” is estimated at nearly £1m.
Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd have since marketed the site for sale to ‘the market’ starting at £4.7m without any takers in good or bad times.
It is now for sale for just £1m. So, it has lain as unused derelict land for seven years, costing the Edinburgh taxpayer money to keep secure.
Granton Sur Mer was tabled after onsite discussions between JUMP and Community Land Use of London – specialists in developing and acquiring community assets.
The proposals were shown to the City of Edinburgh Council planning department who recommend it be shown to the newly formed Urban Design Panel (UDP).
Both planning, and the UDP liked it and suggested we start the formal planning process with a Pre-application Notice. It was duly submitted and is still the only such notice that has been submitted for the site.
We also presented the project to the full board of Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd and asked for various land options to be considered.
There has been nothing from Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd.
We have been told that there is no chance of getting the land for such a project, as Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd sees the site as ‘the crown jewels’ of their property portfolio.
It can only be that if it is saleable – not lying as derelict land in a market where land has no value.
Granton Sur Mer has produced business plans and held some community meetings to assess the interest in the project, major partners are agreed from France and Edinburgh and other consultants have come on board to help realise the viability of the project.
An application to Awards for All was submitted and in early 2011 we learnt we were successful. We now have the funds to undertake a wider consultation with the large community of North Edinburgh.
It is hoped this will show the City that the land can be better used by the community for the community rather than disposed of to private firms.
Meanwhile Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd are asking Granton Sur Mer for more and more information about the projects viability, costing the project team money, time and energy, whilst back handedly dealing with a private care home provider to buy the land for a paltry £1m.
We offered to pay that amount with backing from two major financial institutions for the land. Dave Anderson, the Director of City Development, has even had the audacity to suggest we should not be doing the consultation on the proposed land.
And so whilst we are granted the Awards for All grant to show the city the strength of community commitment, with scope to gain further funding from the Big Lottery, the City can unilaterally sell off its assets without any consultation with its citizens.
Our current position is that we will continue with the Granton Sur Mer consultation process, whilst the City emits press releases which are misleading.
Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd, have sold the land, but the sale is subject to planning permission. That does not mean it is a done deal unless the democratic planning process is usurped by City Councillors voting against the wishes of their electorate and for taking the big fast bucks on offer.
The Granton Sur Mer consultation runs until Friday, October 7 and then it will continue online at until the end of December 2011.
The results of the consultation will be collated and published around March 2012 well before any planning application by the care home provider will be completed.
Written by Ross McEwan. Ross McEwan is the Project Manager of the Granton Sur Mer project.