Monday, 25 February 2008

Public Inquiry for Caltongate?

Swinney asked to call in Caltongate application

Today Monday, 25 February 2008 this article appears in the Scottish Parliament`s

Online Holyrood Magazine

Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth John Swinney has been asked to call in Edinburgh’s Caltongate planning application or hold a major inquiry by opponents of the scheme, including one of his party’s own MSPs.

Architect James Simpson wrote to Swinney late last week, stating that City of Edinburgh Council’s material interest in the site proposed for development and the high number of objections meant that a ministerial decision was appropriate.

Simpson, who is vice-president of the UK committee of the International Council for Monuments and Sites, funded by bodies including Historic Scotland and Edinburgh Council itself, also called for a public local inquiry. He asked Swinney to consider the views of the Reporter in such an inquiry before coming to a final decision.

Lothians SNP MSP Shirley- Anne Somerville has also written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to call in the application with a view to addressing a number of concerns.

She said that she wasn’t necessarily against the development, but was against the actual plan that had been put forward. Meanwhile, Green MSP Robin Harper is calling for a public local inquiry and Independent MSP Margo MacDonald indicated in a recent column for the Evening News that she would support such moves.

In his letter to Swinney, Simpson says that the ‘Caltongate’ project was strongly backed by the previous administration on the council in a way which “verged on the improper”.

“It was simply inappropriate, in my view, for the council to encourage at the masterplanning stage, the demolition of a listed building in its ownership, which it had a statutory duty to protect.”

However, he stressed the main issue was the impact of the proposed project on the historic Canongate, the Waverley valley, iconic views of the Old Town from Calton Site as a whole.

“The suggestion that this particular development, and others like it,are essential for the wellbeing of the city is, frankly, bizarre. It is surely self-evident that it is the sheer quality and consistency of Edinburgh in architectural and planning terms, which are the foundations of Edinburgh’s greatness,” Simpson explained.

The Architectural Heritage Society for Scotland said that it hadn’t yet decided if it would write to Swinney, but that it was certainly considering it as there were “grounds for a public inquiry”. Grassroots group the Canongate Community Forum is asking people on its website to write to the Cabinet Secretary requesting a public inquiry.

However, a spokesman for developer Mountgrange said that there had been a four year process of consultation and dialogue, and that there was two to one backing for the scheme amongst members of the public.

“Historic Scotland, the nation’s heritage watchdog, has given support and the council has approved the masterplan and six out of seven of the applications. The democratic will of the people of Edinburgh is being followed, but it is a decision for Scottish ministers.”

Now lets see what truth if any has been uttered by Mountgrange`s spindoctor..

"four year process of consultation and dialogue"

The Caltongate Masterplan was unveiled to the public in October 2005, so that makes around two and a half years, not four...

and as for "consultation and dialogue" these words have been banded around for the two and a half years but their meanings never enacted..

"two to one backing for the scheme amongst members of the public"

Now from Mountgranges Caltongate News Jan 2008, that was posted to over 28,000 addresses within a one mile radius of the proposed Caltongate, they say

"Almost 700 (692 infact) residents returned questionnaires to the independent market research company to express their views on the proposed redevelopment of the site of the now demolished former bus depot and surrounding area. By a majority of 2 to 1, respondents said that they believed that the 300 million Caltongate project will improve Edinburgh`s Old Town."

So that equates to 346 members of the public, hardly anywhere near 224,312 members of the public, half the population of the cit, that they are implying ... (population of Edinburgh 448,624 at the 2001 Census)

Now that hardly compares to the thousands who have signed the online and paper petitions against the scheme? And of course the hundreds who have objected to the individual planning applications.

As for Historic Scotland that will be explored in tomorrows blog........