Given this is one of the precious few public statements made by Joan – and no, I am not being rude by “first naming” her, she is referred to by first name in the press release – I shall proceed to make comment on each section.
First off the bat we have,
“Dame Joan Stringer, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University, has set the record straight over the proposed housing development on the former Craighouse Campus.”
Auch, no, that is not going to work. There has been no setting straight of records at all. For starters, there is no explanation of why the estate was sold at a bargain basement price of £10m to a property development company – Mountgrange Investment Management LLP – ran by people who, arguably, have a colourful record.
The two senior partners listed for Mountgrange Investment Management LLP are the same two people who were directors of Mountgrange Capital plc – Martin Myers and Manish Chande – that ran the Caltongate development, and we all know how well that little pet project went. What you may not be familiar with is Mountgrange Capital plc’s accounts; well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for you, so I shall link to an easily available source, here (login using either Facebook or Google to download accounts) – 2006, 2007 and 2008 are the most interesting.
Getting back to the release,
“Dame Joan said she was disappointed that an emotive disinformation campaign was being mounted by campaigners against the development.”
She’s disappointed, well, now that is a pity. Although, precisely why the incumbent of the top post for an institution that has an annual income of £110m is disappointed at a community campaign is beyond me.
If she indeed feels that the information the campaign has published is not correct then perhaps she would wish to furnish the local community with relevant documentation to prove otherwise?
While on the subject of documentation, Napier appears to have misplaced their financial records relating to their continued financial interest in Craighouse, as least as far as the reply to my Freedom of Information request suggests. Despite not bothering with such frivolities as paper-work for a multi-million pound business deal, we do get some meagre confirmation later, perhaps she has memorised the salient figures.
“She said: ‘I am saddened that that certain individuals appear to be attempting to distort the facts and discredit the name of Edinburgh Napier University.'”
Now, I am not sure whether by “certain individuals”, she refers to the 5,000 people that have signed a petition against the new build development. On second thoughts, maybe she was referring to Jim Eadie MSP’s statements opposing the current proposals. No, well, it could be that she was referring to the statements made by numerous politicians. Oh, I really don’t know, she could even have been referring to the very detailed and considered letter from the Cockburn Association. If she is going to be vague, I suppose we shall not get to know who those these people of whom she speaks are.
She is quoted verbatim,
“‘I am not prepared to get drawn into a war of words but I am determined to put the true facts into the public domain.'”
That’s fantastic news: we have been waiting for the true facts about Craighouse for well over a year now! I wonder when Stringer & Co. will release this promised information.
She goes on to say,
“The university continues to be a good neighbour to the people of Craighouse. This is one of the reasons why the university is a co-applicant on the planning application, as we can continue a monitoring role.”
So Napier is undertaking a monitoring role, curious. Well, if Napier stand to make money from the development, is that not somewhat a conflict of interest? I also did not know that being a good neighbour was the main concern here, rather more preventing the destruction of a vital piece of Edinburgh’s heritage and preserving precious green space in the city. Personally, I am not convinced that neighbourly politeness has much to do with protection of green space, planning law, conservation or use of public funds.
I also thought neighbours listened to each others’ concerns. If we are to continue on this analogy then currently all her neighbours are shouting rather loudly over the fence telling her she cannot build on the garden while urging her to implement essential repairs to prevent her house falling down from dry rot damage. Maybe if the community went round with a casserole and a bottle of wine, she would be more receptive to the complaints?
She goes on to say,
“‘The university would not have supported a development of high density, as was presented in some of the tenders.'”
The University should not be supporting this proposed development nor should Craighouse have been sold-off on the cheap to an off-shore investment fund. Is it only I that hears alarm bells with the words “off-shore investment fund”? No?
Thankfully, not too much public money was poured into maintaining the estate, oh, nope, sorry, that’s wrong. There was a rather big grant from Historic Scotland, if my memory serves me right, over £2m. Also, there was a fair amount ploughed into the estate from Napier itself. So Mountgrange really have got a good deal!
To finish off, she says,
“’We continue to have a material interest in the site and that allows us to influence the final plan.
However, there are details of the agreement which remain commercially sensitive but we are not making a ‘killing’ on the sale as has been claimed. We received £10m as an initial payment and we will receive a further payment at a later date.
The second payment will not be anywhere near the millions of pounds that are being quoted by certain individuals. We estimate that this is likely to be around £1.5m.'”
For that, we must be thankful. If it were not for her good memory, the projected profit may have been lost to the ether! Although, I suspect £1.5m is, in most peoples’ definition of money, “millions of pounds”.
Being more serious for a moment: The Craighouse Partnership which comprises Mountgrange Investment Management, Sundial Properties and Edinburgh Napier University are proposing to build more than 100 residential units in a pervasive and extensive new build development across the open green space. This is despite their proposals being contrary to the Local Development Plan, Craighouse sitting within a conservation area, the green space at Craighouse been designated as Open Space and an Area of Great Landscape Value, and the pending Special Landscape Area designation. There is an exceedingly heavy legal presumption against development on the green space or woods at the Craighouse estate. For Napier to be part of a consortium that is intending to run contrary to all of that should be serious cause for concern.
In my opinion, a University should be acting as educator, undertaking research and pursuing academic interests. Mountgrange and Sundial are private companies in the property business, so their interests in this context are to an extent understandable. In contrast, the public purse does not fund academic institutions to go off and play property developer, especially on protected land and against the context of massive public opposition.
In my own view, Joan Stringer’s handling of Craighouse has been poor and I would invite her to consider whether her continued position as Principal is tenable.