It is more than two years since planning consent was granted for the controversial housing developments at Craighouse. Many people have been wondering what is happening and have become concerned that the listed buildings could fall into disrepair. The restrictions on access over the past six months have added to the frustration.
However, at long last, work is under way. The new owners of the site are Quartermile who are, of course, responsible for the developments at the old Royal Infirmary site at Lauriston – also a mix of new builds and conversions of listed buildings. In a joint venture, Quatermile will undertake all construction and marketing work at Craighouse while Clearbell, the former developers, will retain land ownership.
Work has already started on levelling and scraping the central car park area. Site infrastructure – roads, parking, water and lighting – will be the next step. Phase One of the building work will focus on the listed buildings closest to the main entrance with remedial works for Bevan, South Craig and East Craig scheduled for early in the New Year. Building warrants have been submitted for the conversion works in these buildings and full design teams are in place with a view to a start in three or four months time. The first new build development is likely to be the Burton block to the right of the main entrance.
The official date for the ‘Commencement of Work’ was the 8th of December. We have been waiting for a long time for this Commencement date to be set. It triggers the start of negotiations to transfer three areas owned by the developers to Council ownership – the eastern half of the existing Local Nature Reserve, the Craighouse Woods to the south west of Craighouse and the woodlands above Meadowspot reaching up the slope to the Craighouse buildings. These transfers will increase the size of the Local Nature Reserve by more than 50%. The conditions of the planning consent stipulate that the transfer must be completed within twelve months of the Commencement Date (i.e. by 8.12.2017) provided that the Council is satisfied with landscaping works in the three areas.
In the New Year, staff from the developers and from the Forestry and Natural Heritage Section of the Council will walk the three areas to agree what work needs to be done. The outcome is likely to be some felling of diseased or damaged trees to ensure community safety but the aim will be to minimise damage to the existing environment.
Once this work has been carried out, the land can be legally transferred. On the transfer date, the developers will make a payment of £175,000 to the Council under the provisions of Section 75 of the Planning Act. This payment is for “maintaining the Woodland Areas in perpetuity for the benefit of the Development and the wider community”. The payment will be protected and ring fenced within the Council and used only for this intended purpose. We hope the Section 75 payment will be used for path, access and information improvements across the Local Nature Reserve. We shall be asking our members what they think the priorities should be.
In the longer term, there is a possibility of community ownership of the Local Nature Reserve. Way back in 2012, a community consultation on ownership options was held at Meggetland. Subsequently, the Council agreed that the land should come into Council ownership in the first instance but with the option of a transfer to community ownership in the future.
From a community point of view, things will get worse at Craighouse before they get better. As work gets under way, there will be increased traffic and noise from heavy machinery. There will continue to be restrictions on access for a long time to come. The developers have undertaken to maintain access to the Parkland/Orchard area and to the hill top by the main path from Craiglea Place. Most other access points will be closed to ensure public safety. This will be frustrating to many and some have already expressed their frustration by damaging signs and barrier fencing or by throwing litter (and worse) over the machinery on site. The fencing is a statutory requirement for health and safety purposes and vandalism makes no sense.
We will try to communicate community concerns in constructive ways and will try to achieve change where we can. We are pleased to have established a dialogue with the developers, relieved that the listed buildings will not be allowed to fall into disrepair and hopeful that the land transfer will lead to community benefit. The developers have set up a dedicated website (www.craighouse-edinburgh.com) to inform the community about progress with the development. Please let us know – through our e-mail or Facebook or just in person – what you think about the latest developments at Craighouse and what you think the Friends of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail should be doing .