Midwinter in the Garden

Granton Garden - Autumn 2015In North Edinburgh, a community-based campaign is fighting to prevent one of Edinburgh’s oldest surviving walled gardens from being lost to a luxury housing development.  The Friends of Granton Castle Garden want to restore it to use as a community garden.

The late-Medieval walled garden could be more than 500 years old.  It survived the demolition of Granton Castle in the 1920s and continued in use as a market garden until relatively recent times.

Some 10 years ago, the garden was acquired by Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd., a company wholly owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, to add to its wider portfolio of land in the Granton Waterfront redevelopment area.

In December 2003, Waterfront Edinburgh had submitted applications for planning permission to erect a residential development of 17 luxury houses within the walled garden.  The company’s original proposal was for a gated development, but the security gates were subsequently dropped from the scheme.  In October 2004, the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee agreed to grant planning permission subject to a legal agreement in relation to affordable housing and a financial contribution towards education infrastructure.  A draft legal agreement was prepared in 2008 but the economic crash intervened.  The agreement was never concluded and planning permission never issued.

Despite the garden being identified as open space in the Council’s Open Space Audit and the Edinburgh City Local Plan, Waterfront Edinburgh remains intent on building luxury housing on the site. In January 2015, the EDI Group, of which Waterfront Edinburgh is a part, revived its interest in the development.  The Council’s Planning Department erroneously informed Historic Scotland that the planning applications relating to the garden had been withdrawn along with others for adjacent sites, but EDI managed to keep them alive on the basis that the Council had previously been minded to consent.  Its proposals are currently being considered by the Council under its procedure for dealing with legacy planning applications, which requires them to be re-assessed in the light of more up-to-date development plans, changes to policies and revisions of guidance.

There have been a number of important changes in policy and guidance since Waterfront Edinburgh’s proposals were last considered by the City Council.

granton-castle-walled-garden-in-1920In 2014, the Scottish Government revised Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) which now states that decisions should have regard to the principles for sustainable land use set out in its Land Use Strategy.  One of these principles is that where land is highly suitable for a primary use such as food production, this value should be recognised in decision-making.  The SPP also states that decisions should be guided by the need to protect, enhance and promote access to cultural heritage, including the historic environment.

A resurvey undertaken by Historic Scotland in the light of evidence of a history dating back to 1479 led to its listed status being upgraded from Category C to Category B in July 2015.  Historic Scotland also issued new planning guidelines on historic gardens and designed landscapes earlier this year.

The emerging Strategic Development Plan Open Space Strategy identifies the garden as a key location for action to create a network of connected green spaces in North Edinburgh.

A driving force in the Friends of Granton Castle Garden is its Chair, Kirsty Sutherland, who is a horticultural consultant.  Under her leadership, the campaign has developed an impressive momentum, winning the support of organisations as diverse as the Pilton Community Health Project, North Edinburgh Arts, Nourish, Edible Edinburgh, Scotland’s Garden and Landscape Heritage, Common Weal and Edinburgh College of Art.  Research by the Friends has uncovered a great deal of new information on the history of Granton Castle and its garden and an initial survey of the garden’s walls has been undertaken with the assistance of Historic Environment Scotland staff under the Scotland’s Urban Past scheme.

Granton Castle Walled Garden is an irreplaceable resource and one of the few areas of deep, unpolluted, well-tilled soil in the area.  The surviving apple trees at Granton are prolific fruiters and their stock has made an important contribution to apple cultivation across Edinburgh.

The garden could be an asset of great value to North Edinburgh and the city as a whole if it were to be restored as a community garden.  With the establishment of the Friends of Granton Castle Garden, there is now an organisation with the skills, capacity and commitment to make that happen.  The Friends have engaged with EDI with a view to gaining access to the garden to undertake survey work and an archaeological investigation.  They have also indicated an interested in purchasing it in the event of EDI’s planning application being unsuccessful.

A development of 17 luxury houses will benefit very few people and make no significant contribution to meeting the city’s housing needs.  There is no need for the garden to be developed for housing, as it is surrounded by large areas of vacant post-industrial land which is much more suitable.  The cost of providing road access to the site is estimated to be around £100,000, an abnormally large sum for a development of only 17 houses.

EDI has made it clear that its preference for a housing development in the walled garden is based entirely on financial considerations, the sale return on a niche housing development being much higher than sale for restoration as a working garden.  Awkwardly for the City Council, doing the right thing now will call into question the wisdom of Waterfront Edinburgh’s purchase of the walled garden for development in the first place.

The economics of the purchase are already looking far from clever.  In 2006, Waterfront Edinburgh paid £800,000 for the walled garden.  With planning permission for housing, the site is now estimated to be worth only £240,000.

There is no compelling rationale for sacrificing a unique civic asset to luxury housing, but a real risk that it will be lost to the citizens of Edinburgh as a result of the narrow perspective of the City Council’s commercial arm.  The Chairman of the EDI Board is the SNP councillor for Corstorphine/Murrayfield, Frank Ross.  Other members of the Board are the Labour councillor for Leith, Gordon Munro and the Conservative councillor for Inverleith, Iain Whyte.  It must be hoped that in an election year the city’s politicians will see the merit of giving greater weight to the interests of the community than sparing the blushes of their development company.

It is expected that the planning application will be determined early in 2016.

Comments (21)

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  1. Alf Baird says:

    This article is also interesting in the wider context of waterfront redevelopment in Edinburgh more generally. Redevelopment (of Leith and Granton) has been tragically delayed and piecemeal due to the private ownership of the port estate, now owned by a Cayman Island registered private equity group. Edinburgh (and Glasgow and Dundee) waterfront redevelopments are some 20 years behind those of most other cityports in Europe (Bilbao, Barcelona, Genoa, Hamburg, Gothenburg etc), the key benefit at all these other port cities being public ownership of obsolete port land and a focus on city needs (affordable housing, tourism etc) instead of pure property speculation (as in UK) which only holds back developments, the latter a consequence of high land values placed on the land in Edinburgh etc by the private owners. An article on Scottish port privatisation and its impacts is to be published by Jimmy Reid Foundation this week: http://reidfoundation.org/

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on, Alf! I look forward to reading the Foundation’s article.

    2. Muscleguy says:

      You are I hope aware of the, nearing completion Dundee waterfront redevelopment? Which will, with a large park in the middle, reconnect the City with the Riverfront. It will be simplicity itself to wonder from Caird Square down and across to the river.

      The site lacks almost all of the buildings but the plots are now there, the streets laid in. There are hoardings around the V&A Extension site and the station as building work there progresses but Dundee does not deserve to be in your list.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        M, You need to ask yourself a few simple questions on this:

        – why is waterfront redevelopment of derelict port sites in Dundee 20 yrs late?
        – is V&A really what the people want/need? At a public cost of megamillions (and rising!) we could have had thousands of affordable houses, and many other visitor/retail attractions, and a new railway station long before now, rather than the current belated mess that has been cobbled together by self-appointed elites
        – how much cash is Forth Ports Cayman Island owners squeezing out of this one?

        Dundee remains on my list, and deservedly so. I suggest you go and visit some of the model waterfront reviatilizations I mentioned to see how its done.

        1. Muscleguy says:

          Politics of inertia dear boy, what else? and such things always take time to work out. We have now at least four new hotels with more in the pipeline providing jobs and income all on both what is here now in terms of attractions and what is to come. The new station will have another one on top of it to pay for it and the old Customs House is supposed be being rejuvenated for another one.

          The vacant plots now being hawked for building on the new waterfront will when built on provide construction jobs as well as jobs once built and commercial rates for the City from what was empty space before. The money for the V&A is largely from outwith Dundee and not available to build houses. Yet the income from it from visitors etc etc will sustainably bring in income to the City for decades going forwards. Dundee has built lots of affordable homes with more planned on the former sites of exploded multis. That you do not know this shows how out of touch with Dundee you are.

          I campaigned all over the city and especially in the schemes during the referendum and found myself chapping doors of lots of new build affordable units and homes.

          You write both from ignorance about what is happening here in Dundee and how cities work as well as confusing one off money with sustainable income going forward which has to come from somewhere. Our former waterfront brought in very little income to the City, the new one and all the developments around it will bring in far more.

          BTW one small but not cheap improvement may also have passed you by: finally a footbridge between the grassmarket and Riverside Tesco (and also providing access to the riverside) with a lift for cycles and the disabled. So the students don’t have to walk all the way around Roseangle to and along to shop in a decent sized supermarket. A small thing but it will help a lot of people. Park in Tesco and follow over the rail line and up the steps to the Perth Road and admire the lifelike bronze statues of three lemmings (games variety) climbing a gatepost. Just a small celebration of the importance of the games industry to the City. Helped by a constant stream of graduates from Abertay University. GTA was born in Dundee, work on it proceeds here in part still. Good, well paid skilled work.

          Did you know? do you even care?

          1. Alf Baird says:

            Thanks for painting a rosy picture. Sounds like you have a vested interest. Do you?

          2. Muscleguy says:

            Ah you run out of arguments so you seek to attack the messenger. I was born in small town Ayrshire and emigrated to New Zealand aged 6. I came back as a PhD qualified adult first in London for 5 years then Dundee since end ’98. I do not work for Dundee City Council and have never done so. Ditto any construction companies. I have no relevant shareholdings. I do not pretend to understand broad Dundonian and being gluten intolerant have never eaten a bridie.

            I am a Yes campaigner and RIC member (as far as we have membership). I am also a fully paid up member of SCND. My wife works in Edinburgh. None of our offspring live or work here.

            I think that covers it. Anything else you wish to know? Any arguments or just more ad hominems on myself?

          3. Alf Baird says:

            I see you arrived back in Scotland just in time to see the end of the electronics industry, yet another of Scottish Enterprise’s great hopes.
            Dundee waterfront: I do see a couple of modest-sized hotels and a railway station under construction plus some new road surfaces in the area, and a few apartments, possibly of the expensive ‘river view’ type.
            The core development attraction however is the questionable V&A Museum, for which cost has doubled from £40m to over £80m: our public sector officials are nothing if not consistent.
            The majority of waterfront sites are still vacant, as far as I can see. They mainly envisage commercial office type developments. At the end of the day a masterplan is just that. Leith has had three or four, none of which ever really came close to fruition.
            On the V&A ‘disaster’, the McClelland Report, released on August 14 last year, lists a “catalogue of gross mismanagement of the project going back to 2011”. He revealed there was “no cost or project manager employed – leaving the hugely ambitious development doomed to spiral out of control”. And he criticised planners for picking an “elite” building design (sounds familiar?)despite having budgeted to do the project on the cheap. The report also said it was “clear from the outset Kengo Kuma’s design could not be afforded”. There was a “mismatch between the lower aspirations for the building’s design on which the initial £27 million budget was based and the elite level of the design implied in the competition brief and eventually selected by the Panel”. There was also “insufficient investment in providing external professional support to the project particularly in its early stages”.

            The ‘officials’ probably should have brought in someone who knew something about obsolete cityport revitalisation, rather than assume they knew what they were doing. We’ve been here before (Holyrood building, Edinburgh trams etc).

  2. MBC says:

    I attended a Nordic Horizons seminar a couple of years ago run by Lesley Riddoch on comparisons between Copenhagen and Edinburgh. During the duscussions Lesley raised this Granton waterfront issue and the Copenhagen speaker was astonished to learn that the Forth Port Authority was a private company as in Copenhagen the harbour and waterfront is publically owned. Their response was, ‘Well it shouldn’t be!’ (privately owned).

    The talk on Copenhagen was about how the waterfont had been developed in recent years to provide public amenities and the innovative and high quality developments that had ensued.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      That’s very true in respect of the development of Edinburgh’s waterfront in general. But Granton Castle Walled Garden was purchased by Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd., a company owned by the City of Edinburgh Council. So, here we have a publicly-owned company pursuing its own development agenda, without regard to the interests of the Granton community or the citizens of Edinburgh in general.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      MBC, ports on the continent remain in public ownership, based on the principle that all communities require access to the foreshore, which remains in ‘dominium populi’ and is considered a public good with ports regarded as a strategic ‘utility’, for the economy/trade, defence, and safety as in flood prevention etc, and thus no private entity should be allowed to exploit this. The UK was the only exception in Europe with Tories selling property rights of ports (and doing so very cheaply too, thereby ‘subsidising’ their City ‘friends’), and indeed also giving the subsequent private port owners the former port ‘authority’ functions, which has merely cemented their local and estuarial monopolies as self-regulators; that is why ports have since attracted private equity funds to buy them over, easy returns- same thing happened with our major airports incidentally. To say this was negligent on the part of the Tories would be too kind. I have a different word for it, as do our European friends. Holyrood could and should fix all this as the economy suffers badly from it, but as on many needed reforms the SNPs unionist-elite civil servants will say: “ye cannae dae that Meenister”. Ye can, and ye shud!

      1. MBC says:

        Good points Alf, thanks for this. To think what the poor Greeks have suffered… they were forced to sell off Piraeus I recollect.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Aye MBC, an economy has to be really desperate to consider selling something as nationally strategic as a major port, or airport for that matter. The UK economy has been desperate for as long as many of us can remember with short bubble-booms interespersed by long busts, hence the need for the UK Gov to sell anything and a’thing.

          I suggested to Edinburgh cooncil officials they will eventually quite probably have to compulsory purchase the port of Leith given the offshore private equity model of ownership (incl. inflated land values) constrains investment, hence the remaining dereliction and obsolescence is unlikely to be solved under the current ownership structure. Incidentally if the old docks were to be filled in this would add a massive landbank to the city, possibly enough to keep Edinburgh’s growing population satisfied in affordable housing for another 100 years or more. Inflated land values are what’s stopping this. But really, the obsolete city ports should never have been sold off (in 1991) to property speculators in the first place, rather they should have been given (freely) to the local communities/cities to develop sensibly in line with community (not speculator) needs, as in Copenhagen, Genoa, Hamburg, Barcelona etc. Hence, far easier to develop.

  3. John Leavey says:

    I never saw a better case for a community buy-out.

  4. Johnny Gailey says:

    It is worth talking about this within the context of the Community Empowerment Bill, which became an Act in July 2015.

    Within the Act there is now a duty on local authorities to
    “take reasonable steps to ensure––

    (a)that the number of persons entered in the list maintained under section 111(1) is no more than one half of the total number of allotments owned and leased by the authority, and

    (b)that a person entered in the list does not remain in the list for a continuous period of more than 5 years”

    Edinburgh council currently manages approx 1300 allotment sites, which would mean the waiting list should be no more than 650. The most recent information from 2010 notes that there are over 2300 people on the waiting list, which has no doubt risen in the intervening five years. There is a chronic shortage of allotments in Edinburgh, in part due to the inflated value of land in the city.

    Now that the councillors have a requirement to undertake reasonable steps, hopefully they have a something to counter the powerful land interests which Alf describes – both of private landowners such as Forth Ports, but also the Council’s own EDI.. This would be a great moment for the city councillors to support the further provision of growing space in the city, especially given the garden’s considerable heritage.

    1. MBC says:

      I am fortunate to have an allotment in Edinburgh. I waited 8 years on the list for it then spent two years clearing 30 years of rubbish that the Council had allowed to accumulate on it by the previous tenant before I could use it.

      There are now nearly 3000 on the waiting list. The Council’s response to the Community Empowerment Bill regulations? To put the rents up (thus forcing more of the poorer plotholders to give up quicker) then subdividide plots that do become available into half plots, then quarter plots, despite the provisions of the bill favouring fill plots.

  5. Kirsty Sutherland says:

    Interesting points made by folk on property speculation and land sitting neglected while companies privately and publically owned wait for the market to pick up. This is a huge problem nationwide and not just in Edinburgh.
    For us the walled garden is not about creating allotments, which are a way of the city council generating revenue from the rising interest in urban food growing with the highest price in the country for allotments.
    Granton castle garden is the oldest walled garden in Edinburgh with incredibly fertile deep soil, tended as a market garden for the last 100 years. Heritage orchard remains and a remarkable history dating back to 1479.
    Local people have some imaginative ideas for its continued sustainable horticultural use which reflect the needs of the area we live in. Policies such as the Historic Environment Act, Community Empowerment Act all seem to support our reasoning, but a publically owned company Waterfront Edinburgh Limited would prefer 17 luxury townhouses and as yet will not engage with any alternative ideas or community bodies in a meaningful way.
    This 2 acre patch is truly unique ‘the last of Scotland’s Lost Gardens’

  6. Jim Bennett says:

    I suspect that there may be a misprint at the end of the article. It’s suggested that the site WITH Planning Permission for 17 houses has a value of £240k. Doubt it! With Planning Permission it would be more like a minimum of £6 million.
    The article also suggests that £100k is excessive for an access road for 17 houses. Again, doubtful. My experience would indicate that £6k per unit would be reasonably cheap for an access road.
    That’s part of the problem; the amount of money and profit potentially at stake.

    I do however, wish the campaign well.

  7. Graeme Purves says:

    On Wednesday 13 January, EDI’s Operations and Finance Director, Eric Adair, wrote to Kirsty Sutherland, Chair of the Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden, to inform her that the EDI Group will withdraw its legacy planning applications to develop housing on the garden site. However, he indicated that the EDI Group remains committed to developing the site for housing and intends to submit a new planning application in the future. The Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden will now press forward with its campaign to restore it as a working garden under community ownership.

  8. peter witt says:

    Developers greed and Tory party greed and political mismanagement selling off national and public assets no wonder the Tories want Brexit at any cost they don’t want to be forward looking like other European Nations and put this country’s interests first before their own

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