Thursday, 7 August 2008

Caltongate plans in ruins after council blunder

The City of Edinburgh Council Planning Department Group Photo 2008

THE controversial £300 million Caltongate scheme was in chaos today after a major council blunder.

Officials have been forced to write back to all 350 objectors, inviting them to submit further comments and present any new evidence they believe should be considered.

The revelation is likely to delay the start of work at the Old Town site by more than a month and could even threaten the viability of the project.

The requirement to give objectors another 14 days to comment is a new rule introduced last year, which was overlooked by council officials – although they today blamed Government advisers for the mix-up. It means the planning applications will once again come before local politicians later this month, then be handed back to ministers for yet another final decision.

Planning convener Jim Lowrie (pictured above) will have to decide whether to hear verbal objections and allow another vote later this month, although that is thought unlikely. However, although ministers gave the green light last June, they will once again have the chance to call the plans in, or even hold a public inquiry, if they believe there is sufficient new evidence.

In their responses, it is likely that many objectors will highlight recent news that Unesco has launched an investigation into Edinburgh's World Heritage status, which critics believe is threatened by the Caltongate plans.

For the developer, Mountgrange, it is thought the mistake could present financial problems, because the process of securing funds for the scheme is understood to have started.

In the current economic climate, delaying that could put the level of investment at risk.

A spokesman for the developers said: "Mountgrange are aware that the Scottish Government have asked for resolution of a procedural omission on the part of the council's planning department.

"The administrative error stems from the Town and Country Planning (notification of applications) (Scotland) Direction 2007. It requires councils with a financial interest in a development – as in this case – to contact all objectors after a local decision has been reached. Only after residents have been given a further chance to comment should ministers be asked to make a final decision.

It is thought the error came to light when civil servants analysed the council's recent decision to approve a £200m redevelopment of Haymarket.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Due to a procedural oversight by the City of Edinburgh Council, we have required the council to conuduct a round of consultation.

"But the council's director of city development, Dave Anderson, said: "Our staff held extensive discussions with their counterparts at the Scottish Government. A course of action was agreed setting out the council's responsibilities. However we have subsequently had advice that we need to make contact with those who made representations.

"The letters were due to be delivered today. Evening News 7th Aug 08

We in the Independent Republic will give a full account of what all this means once we have received our do check blog tomorrow