In our modern world, hardly a day passes in which we are not made aware of yet another instance of corruption by the powerful, abuse of the vulnerable, adverse influence of corporate lobbyists, or just outright failure of the democratic tradition. It easy and understandable to become inured to the ceaseless torrent of news reports and scandals. The hearing over Craighouse on Wednesday last week was however in stark contrast: it hit many, including myself, with a raw, visceral shock. This was very, very personal.
Not only did the applicant’s proposals go against almost every local and national planning policy we have, it was granted in the context of some 1,039 letters of objection, and vigorous opposition from the Friends of Craighouse, three Community Councils, all the local councillors, the leader of the Council, two MSPs and our MP. I was inspired by the arguments advanced by our elected representatives, it felt like democracy in action and that our corner was being fought with vigour. The representations made by everyone speaking were convincing, robust, and entire.
In fact, the only question of the day was that of “enabling development”. It was accepted by the Planning Officers that the application wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed without it. What we the public were given in support of the “enabling” case was, quite frankly, fetid. The whole point of enabling development is that it must protect the heritage in question yet as Sandy Howat adroitly pointed out, the planning report confirmed quite clearly that the proposals are doing precisely the contrary. The “enabling” case also requires a clear financial argument and analysis, which is something that has been almost entirely obscured from public scrutiny; what we were given were high-level figures in which a five year old could find flaws. The “enabling” case – despite breaking most of the English Heritage guidelines against which it was being assessed – was convincing enough for nine councillors though.
That’s the bad news. Ready for the good news?
The application is still that, it’s not yet granted: it’s “minded to grant”. Because Craighouse is of national importance this means the Scottish Ministers can still, at their discretion, “call-in” the application pursuant to section 46 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. What makes this more likely to happen is that Scotland hasn’t really seen much enabling development before – especially over sites as important and unique as Craighouse – so it raises policy questions that will need answered lest the rest of Scotland continues in the same vein as last Wednesday’s decision.
The question of time-scale arises. At a minimum we have until the CEC and Craighouse Partnership agree the relevant s75 and such like, i.e. before the “granted” notice is inked. However, a read of Planning Circular 3/2009 suggests that the Ministers have 28 days and should be notified by the CEC: in the Schedule of “Descriptions of Development for which Applications Must be Notified to Scottish Ministers”, we read in s1,
“1. Development in which planning authorities have an interest
(a) for which the planning authority is the applicant/developer;
(b) in respect of which the planning authority has a financial or other (e.g. partnership) interest; or
(c) to be located on land wholly or partly in the planning authority’s ownership or in which it has an interest;
in circumstances where the proposed development would be significantly contrary to the development plan for the area.”
For those familiar with the application, the applicant is to transfer land to the City of Edinburgh Council and money is to change hands. It has already been acknowledged that the development is significantly contrary to the local development plan. So, if all parties are playing by the rules we have 28 days to convince the Ministers to call-in the application.
So, go for it – get advice from the Friends of Craighouse website and please ask the Ministers to call-in the Craighouse application soon as possible.