March 25, 2015
Developer vs local heritage
Before the financial crash, the Edinburgh Waterfront was heralded as the most important and largest development in the capital’s history. 16,000 homes were to be built, along with all the usual extras – offices, schools, retail and leisure. Not without its critics, many think the crash was a blessing in disguise, stopping the development juggernaut in its tracks. One little gem that almost certainly wouldn’t have survived is a little known, medieval walled garden. As the developers rediscover their mojo, a local group are working hard to protect this historic site.
The Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden made a deputation at Edinburgh Council’s Planning Committee and called on councillors to withdraw the current ‘minded to grant’ planning application for 17 townhouses.
Kirsty Sutherland, horticulturist and a member of the 80-strong community group, says it is vital that the “horticultural history” associated with the site is treasured and that the forgotten garden is given a new lease of life.
“Our group was really heartened by the chance to speak openly at Planning Committee, about our dreams for this garden’s restoration & safeguarding in the future. It’s rarity, age and regional significance seemed to be taken on board by the planning committee members,” Kirsty told STV.
“We felt the issues raised regarding the planning ‘loophole’ resulting in this situation will be remedied in the future.
“Our hope is that when the individual planning application to demolish and build within the walled garden is reviewed, the ‘minded to grant’ status given in 2003, will finally be withdrawn. Indefinite planning permission isn’t the norm and is problematic when circumstances change or new information comes to light.
“This would allow our Friends Group to open a genuine dialogue with the owners Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd, our wish to continue the horticultural use of this ancient garden, restoring it and opening it to the community, instead of it lost to luxury housing.”
As part of the written briefing to councillors, the community group stated their reasons for why the garden is a green space worth preserving.
It read: “Recent evidence pieced together shows the garden’s use in the Stewart era by owner Sir Thomas Hope, first Lord Advocate of Scotland.
“The 2012 publication by RCAHMS, aptly named Scotland’s Lost Gardens, highlights the fact that very few gardens survived from this time.
“Granton Castle Walled Garden is near miraculous in its survival from late medieval times to the present day.
“It offers the opportunity for genuine community led restoration, planning, management and operation of a ‘living link’ to the past.
“Our history and culture are entwined in this ancient walled garden, and we feel it deserves a chance to survive.
“Quality openspace of such historic and environmental significance is very rare on the industrialised waterfront at Granton.”
It is over ten years since planners first gave the green light for 17 residential units to be built on the garden.
Despite planners attempts to conclude a deal with Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd, final terms on the planning application have, to date, not been agreed.
A spokesperson for Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd confirmed to STV that the firm remains committed to preserving the listed wall and dovecote on the site, but still plan to build on the two-acres of garden, despite growing local opposition to proposals which are now more than ten years old.
“Discussions have been ongoing with Friends of Granton Castle Garden, and we recognise the historic significance of this site,” Mark Harris, Senior Development Manager, Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd, said.
“Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd is thoroughly committed to the preservation of the listed wall and dovecote on the site, through our plans that would complement this historic asset.
“The plans have the regeneration of Granton at their core and will provide much-needed family housing and help deal with the city’s housing shortage.
“Our plans also aim to provide open public green space in a prominent location, which will benefit the whole community.”
Speaking at the Planning Committee, David Leslie, Edinburgh Council’s acting head of planning, explained the current planning position: “An application was made in December 2003. That was considered at Development Management Sub-Committee in October 2004. The decision then was ‘minded to grant’ planning permission for 17 residential units within the walled garden and form a new access.
“That was subject to a legal agreement being signed. That legal agreement has never been signed by the applicant so the correct status is, as the deputation said, a live planning application at minded to grant consent stage.
“Legacy applications are planning applications which are in the system and, in our view, nothing has happened for a year. We are encouraged by the Scottish Government to undertake a periodic review of all application that are sitting without any live action within our system.
“What do we do in carrying out that exercise? We write to all applicants asking if they wish to progress the application or can we consider it to be withdrawn.
“They can do a number of things. One, they can agree that its withdrawn. Two, they can totally ignore our request and we put a time limit on that, and, if they ignore it, we will consider it by default as withdrawn.
“But, in this case, as in many cases, the applicant indicated they wanted to keep it as a live application.
“We then asked what action would keep it live and we were told, in this case, they would like to continue to agree the terms of the legal agreement.
“Obviously, that’s not yet completed because its still a legacy application. A legacy application can be taken off the books either by being withdrawn or being decided.”
In this way Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd has kept the gardens in a kind of planning system limbo.
And although Waterfront Edinburgh Limited is wholly owned by the the council, a spokesperson for the council would not comment on the position taken by the firm because the site is subject to a ‘live planning application.”
An official at the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments Scotland (RCAHMS) confirmed that the listed structures on the site had been nominated for inclusion on the Buildings at Risk Register, with a formal assessment likely to be undertaken by heritage experts within months.
‘One of the lost gardens’
For Kirsty Sutherland, the two acres of walled garden has too much history and heritage to not be restored and carried on its original use.
“It is so precious to us and people in the area – It is a living link with over 500 years of horticultural history and we would like to see that horticultural history preserved,” Kirsty said during the Planning Committee on February 26.
“There’s many other brownfield areas on the waterfront that are ripe for development for housing which obviously is needed but we don’t think this gardens should be lost to housing – it is one of the lost gardens.
“It is very neglected and overgrown because it has been left locked up for the last eight years.
“In terms of health and wellbeing, green spaces are vital.”