Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Mountgrange Speak

Enemies at Caltongate

Developer Mountgrange is caught up in a wrangle over a new scheme in Edinburgh’s Old Town and faces a sleaze allegation.

Caltongate for conservationists and the local residents group in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, the name represents a dirty word.

On the one side of an ongoing development feud is Mountgrange, which last month won planning consent for 10 out of 12 elements of a £300m scheme on 6.5 acres near the Scottish capital’s Royal Mile.

The company, established by Trillium founder Manish Chande in 2002, is on target to provide a new luxury hotel, 205 homes – 42 of which will be affordable housing around 250,000 sq ft of offices and a retail square at the New Street site near the city’s historic Royal Mile.
On the other side are local campaigners, who object to the demolition of two listed buildings.

On top of this a recent investigation by The Times has the pulled the developer into a sleaze row after it was revealed it donated £4,000 to a champagne reception hosted by the Labour party, weeks before a vital stage of planning consent was granted (see below).

Mountgrange, which is based in London’s Mayfair, insists it has strained every sinew to make everyone happy. But on a regeneration scheme of this size, something has to give.
‘A lot of the complaints have come from the heritage bodies and people in the local community, but they don’t come up with an alternative,’ says Mountgrange property director Nick Berry. (This is a lie, see the community`s alternative which they came up with in Feb 2006)

‘We have jumped through every hoop the planners wanted us to.
’We have had large debates with Historic Scotland, which is largely now on side with what we are doing. We have consulted for four years we have bent over backwards.’ LIE! First Caltongate Masterplan shown in October 2005

Cosy with council
However, the company has been criticised for its closeness to Edinburgh City Council, which was, until recently, controlled by the Scottish Labour Party. It emerged that a gala business event, attended by Tony Blair and organised by the Scottish Labour Party, was given £4,000 by Mountgrange. The event took place in February 2007, weeks before the Labour-run city council granted Mountgrange permission to start work on site.

Mountgrange’s decision to sponsor the event has been called ‘unwise’ by Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP for the Lothians.

‘The thing that bothers me is that they’ve had 2,000 objections to this scheme,’ she tells Property Week. ‘It is not just desirable but imperative that the plans are gone over with a fine-tooth comb and are really subject to the utmost scrutiny.
‘Labour used to have such a hold over Scottish politics that it was accepted that contractors would cosy up with them. But since the political shake-up, people are more aware about what has been going on.
MacDonald has asked the Scottish parliament to call the plans in and says she cannot see how the scheme will avoid that happening.

But Berry says the donation was simply a part of Mountgrange’s strategy to establish itself among the business community in Scotland.
‘Like everyone else, we do these kind of things,’ he says. ‘We have a large business here and we are keen to show we’re not just a London-based company.
‘This was just an occasion when Tony Blair happened to be speaking in Glasgow – we were sponsoring the reception to a business dinner.’

“It is imperative that the plans are subject to the utmost scrutiny”
Margo MAcdonald, MSP

The firm also sponsored the cow parade in Edinburgh, when life-size painted cows were positioned around the capital to invite people to explore their home city. (On every cow they sponsored, Mountgrange had their name on a plaque! How convenient)

The scheme will have to go before the Scottish parliament in any event, as the city council has a stake in the scheme. Mountgrange bought some council-owned land around the site it owned, a former bus garage, which was due to be developed. The council will receive a small share of the profits from the site. ‘It was done to make sure the council didn’t sell us short,’ says Berry. ‘It only has a passive involvement.’

In October, eyebrows were also raised over the appointment of Donald Anderson, former council leader, as Scottish director of PPS, the public relations agency that is promoting Caltongate on behalf of Mountgrange.

The most controversial element of the scheme is a five-star Sofitel at the centre of the scheme. Two listed buildings are being demolished to make way for the 210-bed hotel, which will have the city’s largest conference facilities outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
Edinburgh World Heritage says the replacement of the Sailor’s Ark building and former Canongate School with the proposed buildings will ‘in no way conserve or enhance the established character’ of the area.

‘You have to have sympathy with the campaigners,’ says Mountgrange’s Berry. (I bet you do!)
‘It is very difficult and very challenging to take down any listed building and rightly so.
‘But I think it is inevitable, to achieve a successful regeneration of this area. The reason is that the hotel is going to act as an anchor for the scheme. It is something that is going to be available to businesses, tourists and locals.’ ( ah now for locals Nick, does that mean prostitution or washing dishes?)

Old town, new quarter (the word quarter is not used in Scotland to describe areas of towns or cities, like Caltongate it is developer speak)

Berry insists the scheme is needed to regenerate the area, and that changes have to be made to some of the older buildings to gel the scheme into its surroundings. ( changes he means get rid of them!)
see rest of article here By David Doyle Property Week