2007 - 2020

The Golden Jobbie and Richard Branson’s Victoria Street Folly

This is the third in a series on ARCHITECTURAL MODERNISM AND THE DEATH OF THE SCOTTISH IDENTITY an investigation by David J Black. Read part one here, and part two here.

And so to Tynecastle Park, home of Hearts FC, where the Planning Appeals Tribunal prepared to jalouse Duddingston House Properties et al versus objectors to their plans for the former Royal High School. On the Medici wing, a gaggle of lawyers, at least four of whom had once toiled in the vineyard of Donald J Trump.

One of this quartet was in absentia. John D Campbell QC had opposed wind turbines Donald felt threatened his views. His pleadings were blown away by the UK Supreme Court. He would later write an opinion for DHP, possibly not reflecting so well on his chairmanship of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. Those present who’d served Trump’s cause in Aberdeenshire were Gordon Steele QC and lawyers Ann Faulds and Mark McMurray. All were now rooting for Rosewood.

The phalanx of witnesses lined up for the developer compared to the pro-bono contributors on the other side suggested that the appellants and their backers were up for a fight, so the reporters might just concede another Earthy style subversion of democracy. But who would the victors be? The name on the can was DHP and Urbanist, and the operator Sonia Cheng’s Rosewood Hotel Group, but might there be others?

You bet. One named co-investor was Oaktree Capital Management of Los Angeles, whose principal, Howard Marks, is admired as a market guru. Apart from the Royal High School Oaktree’s eminence gris had many other properties on his mind, what with his 30 room ‘Versailles in the Sky’ $52.5 million Park Avenue duplex, the $75 million spread he sold in Malibu which enabled him to buy a $23.7 million house in Beverly Hills, as well as its neighbour for a mere $9.7 million, and his $30 million ocean front haven at The Hamptons. Presumably this burden of ownership must entail lots of jetting around in Oakwood’s Gulfstream 550.

Unlike the project’s architects and the developer’s legal team, Mr Marks has no Trump hinterland. Indeed he’d donated $200,000 to the (hopefully named) Hillary Victory Fund in 2016, exemplifying the sort of big-money dominance failed to woo voters in those rust belts where Trump triumphed.

In the cloud-capp’d towers of global finance there is much fluidity. In March 2019 62% of Oaktree was acquired by Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, though Marks and his colleagues retained 38% of the company and general control of Oaktree’s day-to-day operations.

Once again events fall under the penumbral spell of the Trump magic circle, Brookfield having taken a 99 year lease on a New York skyscraper with a diabolical address (666 5th Avenue) for which the Kushner family had paid $1.8 billion prior to the 2008 crash. This bailed out Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. The deal had involved drawing on the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, a major investor in Brookfield, while Kushner had championed Saudi Arabia and the UAE which were blockading Qatar for allegedly aiding terrorists. Tricky. PR oil was duly poured on troubled waters.

Brookfield CEO of almost 20 years, former Ernst & Young accountant Bruce Flatt, had simpler needs than Mr Marks. Home for many years was a loft in New York’s Tribeca which he sold for $1.87 million in 2012 – peanuts, in Lower Manhattan. He owns other New York properties, an apartment in London, and a ‘modest’ (Globe and Mail) brick house in Toronto.

Given his wealth, Platt is no lavish spender, grants few interviews, and apparently travels by subway. His company, however, commands stretches of skyline from Toronto to Sydney. As the biggest office landlord in London and central Los Angeles, it also owns Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and London’s Canary Wharf. In total, Brookfield owns 14,200 hotel rooms, scores of shopping malls, and some 400 million square feet of commercial space in 35 countries. Mr Flatt is perhaps unaware that he now has a slice of the action in Edinburgh, such is the scale of his global demesne, though Brookfield’s Glasgow-born Chief Finance Officer, Nicholas Goodman (formerly with RBS Real Estate) may be familiar with the Temple on Calton Hill.

Unravelling ownerships in the cosmology of global investment is no easy matter. It would seem that, thanks to a ‘Scottish Limited Partnership’ the ‘person of significant control’ at the Royal High School is now not so much DHP’s Bruce Hare or Urbanist’s David Orr, but an entity identified as Ocm Luxembourg Epf lii S.A.R.L. controlled by a fund identified as Oaktree Capital Group Holdings GP, LLC, itself absorbed into Mr Flatt’s global behemoth, with its canny instinct for a distressed asset. The entity’s voting rights are somewhere between 75.01% and 100%. If that figure seems a bit approximate, those in doubt could always check it with Ann Faulds’ appeal colleague, Mark McMurray, who allegedly helped set things up.

 

The problem for urban activists is often identifying one’s adversary. In the case of the Royal High School the council opposed the hotel proposal not once, but twice – the second time unanimously – so we can’t blame our councillors. We could, however, seek to persuade Bruce Flatt that his distressed asset is really a toxic asset, a tactic employed by SAVE Britain’s Heritage in 2012 when the developer later acquired by TIAA, Henderson Global Investors, had proposed a rather nasty scheme for London’s Victorian Smithfield Market. ‘Follow the money’, a catchphrase made popular by All the President’s Men, was the cue for taking the fight elsewhere. According to The Guardian;

‘In a first for architectural conservation, a UK heritage group has set its sights on persuading global asset management firms based in North America – to respect British architectural heritage. “The more we discover about the ownership – behind the Smithfield markets site, the more international the story becomes” said Save director, Clem Cecil. “Conservation battles will increasingly become international ” – – ’

The ploy worked. Tory minister Eric Pickles became an unlikely folk hero when he sent the developer packing, though Smithfield’s gain would become Edinburgh’s loss. The same developer rolled up at the St James Centre and received a £61.4 million subsidy from – I admit this bit is hard to believe – Labour and SNP politicians! Perhaps some anticipate being wined and dined in the Golden Turd. TIAA increased its 60% stake in Henderson to 100% in 2015, so is thus the name in the frame, even if it off-loaded 75% of the St James Development to Dutch fund APG in 2016, having failed to persuade Australia’s largest pension fund to chip in.

With TIAA, following the money leads us to CEO Roger W Ferguson jr, Appointed Depute to US Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan by Bill Clinton in 2006, but later beaten to the top job by Ben Bernanke, he became Bernake’s so-called ‘Rambo regulator’. A Trustee of the Endowment for International Peace, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the New America Foundation, ex-head of financial services for Swiss Re and ex-McKinsey partner, he chaired the Committee on the Global Financial System, a central bank panel that monitored financial markets. He was also on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and the influential ‘Group of Thirty.’ His 2018 compensation as CEO was just over $5.3 million, though he had other sources of income, such as $410,708 he received as a director of Google parent, Alphabet inc.

Colleagues who had at various times a responsibility for TIAA’s corporate governance included company president, ex-White & Case attorney Rob Leary, as well as Marta Tienda, Princeton’s Maurice P. During Professor of Demographic Studies, and Robert C Clark, Austin Wakeman Scott Professor of Law at Harvard and former Dean and Royall [sic] Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. The company even had a chief ethics officer, Janice Innis-Thompson, ex-colleague of former Attorney General the late Janet Reno. We’re talking power-list here, folks.

If chucking a £61.4 million bung at a rich corporation in North Carolina and the sequestration of the Royal High School are national scandals, the appropriation of land beside Edinburgh’s Carnegie Library is no less so. Following the money in this case leads us to some interesting places.

At one point the Library was to be the £10.5m jewel in the crown in the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and a 2002 conservation report suggested its listing status be raised from ‘B’ to ‘A’. It took our sleekit local authority a mere fifteen years to act on this listing recommendation, which was conveniently triggered after a deal had been made between the council and Jansons.

Jansons had already trail-blazed Edinburgh’s mid-range hotel sector with its 259 room ‘SOCO’ hotel development South Bridge. It picked up A-listed India Buildings in 2014 from Royal Bank of Scotland Real Estate Management after an earlier investor’s plan had been sucked into the vortex of the notorious ‘Global Restructuring Group’ of RBS. Andy Jansons was no one-man-band, but a joint venture adjunct of what he described as a ‘private family’ partner, the William Pears Group.

This ‘private family’ controls an array of companies and subsidiaries whose complexities would bamboozle most quantum physicists. It keeps a low profile. Family founder Bernard Schleicher was a refugee from anschluss Austria who set up a greengrocer’s business in Hackney, changing his name to Pears in 1939, apparently in honour of the fruit. His son Clive married a Glasgow electrical dealer’s daughter, Clarice Castle, and their sons Mark, Trevor, and David now run what is believed to be a £6 billion property company, though exact figures are somewhat elusive in this case. Estimates of the number of properties they own in Britain vary from 10,000 to 40,000, which doesn’t take account of their overseas interests.

Their privacy was invaded in 1998 when The Sunday Times Rich List revealed that Ma Pears was richer than the Queen. This might not have been so bad had it not coincided with unhelpful stories running in the press about the methods used to increase the value of the Pears property empire, such as informing elderly residents of a London mansion block that unless they agreed to a 200% hike in their rents they might lose their homes, which could then be upgraded for yuppies.

The Pears group was also active elsewhere. German journalists using, among other things, the Panama Papers, exposed a subfusc network in Germany, Luxembourg, and Denmark which allegedly owned thousands of Berlin properties. It seemed that in 2017 the brothers had received $53 million in rents and sales from these assets, while paying a mere $197,000 tax on that income, thanks to a labyrinth of shell companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and other havens.

Pears’ Telereal subsidiary bought 63 top properties from RBS in 2007, including the Strand HQ of the Queen’s bankers, Coutts. RBS needed dosh to buy ABN Amro – cue the 2008 crash – and had reportedly offered a 10% discount on the disposal. The transactional ballet of Pears is dizzying – it made a reported $100 million from Facebook’s flotation, and cleaned up on a PPP deal with the DWP. Eat you heart out, Diaghilev – your Ballets Russes doesn’t even come close!

The buyer of the public land behind the Carnegie library, Dreamvale Properties Ltd, which had Andy Jansons and the Pears brothers as directors, staged a ‘members voluntary liquidation’ in March 2018, disposing of its interest to newly incorporated AJHoldco 1 Ltd, which had as sole director Mr Jansons. By the time the transfer of the asset was made it had enjoyed an uplift in value of some £1.5 million, rather calling into question the council’s original ‘best value’ realisation.

Meanwhile a company registered in offshore Guernsey in October 2017 as ‘India Buildings Limited’ entered the fray along with venture capitalists Flemyn LLP. Described as an ‘active equity company – with significant shareholder control over another company’ India Buildings Limited appeared to be effective owner of the land and buildings which, in February 2018, it was announced would accommodate a Virgin Hotel.

The purchase of land which had formerly been reserved for the expansion of the library, much of it held on the city’s ‘Common Good Account’ and therefore a subject of municipal stewardship, rather than ownership, had been a cynical asset-stripping ruse by a council which manifestly valued a cash opportunity over a cultural one. In this case, as in St Andrew Square, no regard had been paid to binding EU regulations which required that an Environmental Impact Assessment should have been carried out, while Edinburgh World Heritage Trust sold the pass yet again, ludicrously declaring that a proposed 11 story hotel in the very heart of Edinburgh Old Town would have no effect on the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

This wasn’t the only act of collaboration. The council’s own environmental officers had recommended against granting consent, since air quality in the Cowgate which already breached internationally accepted standards could only be made worse if high buildings were introduced, putting at risk the health of the public. It wasn’t just councillors who ignored the recommendation. Government regulator the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency offered no comment, in effect giving the project the go ahead. Even Dr Stephen Dixon, head of Friends of the Earth Scotland and a member of the SEPA board, remained silent.

India Buildings was a quirky 1865 structure on a steep angled site on Victoria Street. An ‘Old Flemish’ variant of Scots Baronial, it had been a registry office until 2005, and the scene of many joyous weddings. It had been bought for conversion to a backpackers’ hostel by Duddingston Developments (unconnected with Duddingston House Properties). consent being granted in 2006. An amended application for a boutique hotel was later lodged in the name of Gregor Shore.

The 2008 crash then arrived, thanks in great measure to the recklessness of RBS, which needed a £46 billion bail out from the taxpayer to save the UK financial system. With Gordon Brown’s government stuck with a majority stake in a failed bank there followed one of the most egregious barefaced scams in banking history. Amazingly, the miscreants would get away with it. The government wanted to return RBS to private ownership to recoup at least some of the bail out costs. Leveraging share value was paramount, and the means of achieving this would be unscrupulous.

An action programme, ‘Project Dash for Cash’, kicked in with a special RBS unit, the ‘Global Restructuring Group’ (GRG) which, in the wake of the crash, could undertake a desktop revaluation of business lending on a ‘loan-to-value’ basis, void existing contracts, and restructure loan arrangements on terms so punitive that borrowers could be bankrupted. The GRG ostensibly existed to ‘turn around’ small businesses, but was really just a modern variant of those Cornish wrecker gangs of yore which lured ships onto the rocks before relieving them of their cargoes.

Once in a state of irretrievable distress, businesses which had been viable until falling into the hands of the GRG jackals were then sold on to another RBS group, West Register (Realisations) Limited. It was a hand in glove operation. GRG head Derek Sach was also on the board of West Register from 2004-2011. This was a clear conflict of interest, and a form of insider trading, but it was the approved modus operandum. Government oversight in the matter was fatally compromised by the fact that a division of HM Treasury, the Asset Protection Agency, had been pressurising GRG to come down hard on many of the 16,000 or so business customers which had fallen into its clutches. Britain, it seemed, had turned from a democracy into a kleptocracy. Shadow Treasury spokesman Clive Lewis later referred to this manifest sting operation as ‘the largest theft anywhere, ever.’

But here’s an odd thing. The head of the hotels team at the bank’s so-called ‘distressed assets division’ or ‘real estate work-out vehicle’, West Register, was RBS director Duncan Poole, who had led the acquisition of over 50 hotel properties during his time there. In November 2011 he changed jobs, becoming a director at the William Pears Group as head of investment in its hospitality sector. Poole left RBS just a few weeks after West Register assumed 50% ownership of 24 Jarvis Hotels which had gone bust after the group’s lenders (led, would you believe, by RBS!) had seriously restricted its cash flow by calling in its loans before term. Nice one, Dunkie!

The average punter, of course, saw none of this. The man in the limelight was now brandmeister extraordinaire Sir Richard Branson, who dropped into town in March 2018 and made much of the fact that his wife was Scottish, while his grandparents had lived in Edinburgh. This was all true – indeed his great, great grandfather, the Revered Charles Jenkins, had been Rector of St James the Less Church, Inverleith, and you don’t get much more Edinburgh than that (unless you’re Joan Baez, whose grandfather was Rector of much more chic St John’s on Princes Street) – yet this cosy local spin couldn’t conceal the fact that the UK’s 7th richest person had spent 12 years living on tax-free Necker Island nursing his estimated £4.7 billion fortune.

Sir Richard’s supporting acts at his India Buildings meet-the-press do included Scottish government minister Alasdair Allen and fellow hotel owner the Rt Hon Lord Provost Frank Ross – though how the latter ever got his mits on the civic chain is a mystery, given that he was famously censured for omitting his Highland hotel from the member’s register of interest. Ross’s favourite hobby-horse for a while was that we don’t need library buildings much these days since we can dowload books on-line, and the council did indeed later cancel all subscriptions to newspapers and magazines in the reading rooms, presumably to drive down footfall so that they could do yet more asset stripping.

Another unconcealable fact was that Sir Richard’s Virgin brand, rather like the moniker of the White House disinfectant enthusiast, was primarily a name over a door. While there was indeed a Virgin Hotel Group with Sir Richard as a director incorporated in London in 1993, and a recast in 2010, current operations are conducted from an HQ in Coconut Grove, Florida under CEO Raul Leal, with the first Virgin Hotel opening in Chicago in 2015.

There have been a few group hiccups. Virgin Nashville was meant to welcome its first guests just over a week ago, but has had to mothball it until later in the year; in San Francisco, where it operates under a hotel management agreement (and the coffee shop is called ‘Funny Library’!) it is litigating with property owner Jay Singh; its New York construction site has been plagued by problems and delays, while Edinburgh will no way be meeting its 2020 target opening date.

The wider context also has to be considered. While it is unlikely Sir Richard will be selling The Big Issue outside King’s Cross anytime soon, he’s nonetheless begging the government to prop-up Virgin Atlantic – not an easy touch for an airline that’s 49% owned by Atlanta-based mega-carrier Delta, and whose 51% public face is a billionaire Caribbean tax exile.

To staunch the cash haemorrhage and keep the ailing carrier in business he is selling 25% of his space tourism company Virgin Galactic (coronavirus on the moon, anyone?). The hotel trade is just as susceptible to collapse as the long-haul airline business, neither of which are in any shape to stage a medium to long term recovery. This begs a tough question. Might Virgin be fucked?

Future trends are not easy to discern at this point in the cycle, but the sectors taking the biggest hit after lock down will undoubtedly include the hotel trade. The Golden Turd, the ‘Mickey Mouse Ears’ Rosewood Hotel on Calton Hill, and the Branson-branded Virgin Hotel in the Old Town might not, in the last analysis, turn out to be so much sprightly unicorns, as deadweight white elephants with no viable purpose.

The fates are now waiting in the wings. As far as the Royal High School is concerned, the planning appeal reporters, after a long, costly and tortuous consideration of angels and devils on the head of a pin, issued a case update on May 11 stating ‘The report and recommendations are being finalised and is (sic) expected to be issued soon to Scottish Ministers.’ Might the axe be about to fall? And even if not, are there any Holyrood politicians so foolish that they would be prepared to defy two decisions of an elected council, sabotage a music school simply to further enrich plutocrats like Bruce Platt, Howard Marks, and Sonia Cheng, and wreck an A listed building which the SNP described in 1994, when the UK government proposed selling it off, as ‘a national monument which should be kept for the people of Scotland and must not fall into the hands of private developers’.

As to whether The Golden Turd and Branson’s folly in Victoria Street will ever deliver a profit, only time will tell. I wouldn’t be betting on it if I were you, though.

Comments (22)

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  1. Gordon Purvis says:

    Fascinating and troubling. Should be read by every SNP, Labour and Green politician. Edinburgh should be saved, politics must change.

  2. David McGill says:

    Wow! I feel I’ve just read the real estate version of Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, except this time I got past the first paragraph. Truly remarkable background research. How do you do it?

  3. D A Farr says:

    For a city once known as the Athens of the North, let us hope that Ministers in Scotland and their advisers will remember the classical attributes and vistas for our own city and country’s sake. The sadness is that sand dunes were sacrificed to economy some years ago in Aberdeenshire, but this time around let us cross fingers that music and culture for young people can hold out against a hotel.
    Looking south from Calton Hill, one sees an Old Town hurt ; looking up from the Old Town, please will you keep a view untouched.
    2020 has not been a good year so far. Future generations will rejoice to hear that such a stunning building as the Royal High will be looked after, curated and handed on by the Scottish Ministers for future generations in 2020.
    In Manchester, the football ground is known for its ” prawn sandwich ” fans and has lost its allure, history, local support and character.

    Now please will Ministers look after this heritage and protect it for the people and culture of young and old via music and art.

  4. No.1 says:

    With such an international cast of villains this is is like 10 issues of Private Eye all in one.

    The ugliness of the Golden Turd and the proposed desecration of the Royal High School and the gross vanity of the Branson Hotel are like the a high water mark, or a nadir, of our times, times that surely will never be the same again. The City’s role all these is a shocking indictment of our ‘democracy’ and a miserable measure of our self-worth. Will we see heads roll? Will pigs fly?

    1. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

      Exactly No1, well said.

      But be wary not to upset the human shields for this rancid Council….they seem to come out in fury after such articles and people express the same thoughts as yourself.

      A certain Mr McEwan will be on your case accusing you of “hijacking” the article to promote your “own agenda” of not liking this clearly eminently likeable ship of fools (and crooks)….

      David Black at least has the guts to name and shame while the rose-tinted spectacles brigade that seem to think this disgraceful Council can do no wrong jump into overdrive.

  5. Richard Easson says:

    The Dustbin of the North.

    1. mince'n'tatties says:

      Are you denigrating Royston, Granton, Pilton or Muirhouse in the citys north, or maybe you just want a go at Burdiehouse, Craigmillar or Niddrie at the south? Or try Wester Hailes in the west. In any event it ill becomes your post.
      I know of no other city of barely half a million inhabitants that is so socially and economically divided. Vienna is, but that said, it is three times plus Edinburghs size. The author has not shown any regard for over half its citizens who toil for peanuts after the City Council decided to de-industrialise in the eighties. He has a story to tell and he has anger in his veins.
      But really is that glass palace at the entrance to the Cowgate really so bad? I remember the ‘Coogate’ when it was a violent alkie, drug infested ..hit hole.
      So please, have at least a smidgeon of regard for the majority of Edinburghs inhabitants who don’t sweat buckets over modern architecture. Stop the insults.

      1. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

        Certainly got half of your name correct….as in mince.

        1. mince'n'tatties says:

          I’d wager you have a very narrow circle of friends, you silver tongued rascal you. Much better you try constructive or even destructive criticism although a 1.46 am post does suggest a night on the Buckie.

      2. Richard Easson says:

        It was meant to be a variation on The Athens of the North, and refered to all the planning decisions which have gone on recently to what I think is the detrement of Edinburgh’s archetectural heritage.

        1. mince'n'tatties says:

          If you cut a swathe down from Dundas St to the east to Comely Bank roundabout to the west, what is there to disturb you. Why are you so troubled? Is it Waitrose? Seriously, there it sits at the roundabout as a paragon of consumption, agreed, but so what? Parking is a horror, but hey ho. A half mile from Fettes College and one and a half from Muirhouse.
          There will be no social development, as in ground zero, in that delectable property quadrangle because the inhabitants don’t want it. Anne St, social housing……oh please.
          And who has run Scotland for 13 years? Representatives o’ the peepul ‘o Scotland,
          say no more..Chancers.

      3. David McGill says:

        Having been brought up in one of the suburbs you name, and having lived my entire life in Edinburgh, I can’t recall when it was ever industrial. Sure it had industries, but I as recall it was focussed more on banking, insurance and finance. I also recall the epithet, Edinburgh: beer, books and biscuits.
        I don’t think the author is trying to denigrate any of Edinburgh’s poorer suburbs. In fact he’s speaking up for the people who live here. The ‘A-listed’ Central Library must have been responsible for educating and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens through free access to knowledge. I spent a lot of time there in my youth. The site now proposed for the Virgin Hotel was intended for expansion of a library responsible, in part, for Edinburgh being named UNESCO’s first ‘City of Literature’ and some of it was held for the ‘common good’.ie for the benefit of all the citizens of Edinburgh. How did we lose it and why? I think David Black should be congratulated for bringing this, and all the other questionable deals involving the City of Edinburgh Council, to our attention.
        A pal of mine who owned a tiny flat in the Grassmarket was one of the leaders in the protest by the Grassmarket Community Group. He even spent a few weeks living up the tree on the hotel site, and helped to raise some £27,000 for a fighting fund. To no avail. Up against the bottomless pockets of the developers, that was what you refer to as ‘peanuts’. One of their complaints, often overlooked, was the likelihood of a long line of coaches in Victoria Street dropping off and picking up hotel guests on a daily basis. Not so good for the air quality around their homes.
        If ‘that glass palace at the entrance to the Cowgate’ you refer to was replaced by a scheme to create 50-60 new publicly owned homes at affordable rents rather 225 bedrooms for yet more tourists, I think a little less would be said about the architecture.

        1. mince'n'tatties says:

          Come on David, never heard of Sighthill INDUSTRIAL ESTATE? United Wire that was by far Granton/ Roystons biggest employer for years. Inglis Green Rd’s Wardle Storeys, that gave so many men a second chance from Saughton Prison. I’ve said enough.
          And there’s something else worthy of note; why call something you don’t like a ”jobbie”?
          A hilarious objective epithet , as in not.
          Glasgow can be [but not always] a sectarian hell. Edinburgh does the same in determining social class. Same as it ever was.

  6. Daisy Carnegie says:

    As ever, an entertaining mind-boggling read through the who’s who of Edinburgh’s developers and their backers. However, as a soul to whom Central Library is dear, let me assure readers that the picture of India Buildings is far worse than painted by the hand of ‘The Golden Jobbie…’.

    The facts include:
    1) An uplift in value of £4.1 million, not £1.5m as claimed. Yes, that’s £4.1million missing from the City of Edinburgh Council’s (CEC) coffers in what was called the ‘George IV Bridge Project’. Even though everything other than 9 Geoge IV Bridge was in fact located either on Victoria Street, or on the Cowgate. This sum is calculated on the increase in freehold value in Dreamvale Property Limited’s accounts 30 April 2017 from £3,995,591 in 2016 to £8, 101, 151 in 2017 that reflect its sale to India Buildings Ltd, a non cellular company registered in the grey-listed tax haven, Guernsey, in October 2017.
    2) The ‘project’ here meaning the disposal of surplus assets. Definitions of superfluity a contentious issue when considering the setting of Central Library designed to maximise daylighting, fresh air circulation and coincidentally with views to the castle, as stipulated by its benefactor, Andrew Cargnegie, granted the Freedom of the City the day before laying the city’s first public library’s foundation stone, on 9 July 1887.
    3) Together with these design considerations, the site was chosen as land to its west, comprising what’s known as the Cowgate/Cowgatehead gap site, was scheduled to be taken down, and so could be acquired piecemeal from day one as a future extension site for the library, which throws other questions into the concrete mixer of screed involved in ‘sealing’ such a deal.
    4) For example, the Section 69 Agreement re India Buildings 15/04445/FUL unambiguously links the granting of planning permission to the sale of the Council’s property (this conflict of interest is explained in 2007 Planning Advice Note 82, etc; not a bother then for councillors and officers, at least not a bother for now).
    5) Another point of correction is the fact that CEC would only concede that two closes within the Cowgate/Cowgatehead gap site were common good land, thus reluctantly re-allocating only a small proportion of the £3.5 m capital receipt from the General Fund into the Common Good Fund (i.e. reflecting a proportion of 2,620 m² sold). Nevertheless, a victory for citizenship, as even recourse to the high court would not have been able to restore what had been a public asset.
    6) Just as worrying is the insistence of CEC’s high heid uns that as some of the land (between the back of the library to what had been Alison’s Close) had been rented out with the monies going to the Libraries Account, it had probably been acquired under the aegis of the Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1887. What these members of the Law Society of Scotland fail to note is that section 10 of said act is extant, begging the question of why a reduction in title permitting disposal wasn’t sought in the courts? Perhaps, this is a case for UNISON and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS)?
    7) The sum for common good land amounted to £338, 423k, which the Let There Be Light campaign, once lockdown eases, will petition the Council to be used as seed money for a capital project to realise a desperately needed 21st century transformation of Central Library.

    As David Black has been heard to remark: ‘fraus omnia corrumpit’ – fraud unravels everything.

    Eventually, Police Scotland will be notified.

  7. Fiona says:

    What in the name of goodness is that hideous aboration – shouldn’t be allowed!

  8. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

    Sorry to disappoint but quite a large group of colleagues and friends across a large diversity of generations and nationalities. And equally sorry to disappoint in drinking tastes, I’ve never drunk Vickie in my life and have no intention of doing so.
    And 0146 texting is the sign of a busy professional and entrepreneurial life not done tin foil hat merchant thinking Edinburgh is in a great state or prepared for a resilient future.
    But, I’m glad you got a laugh out of writing your own smug little rejoinder.

    1. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

      Buckie…not Vickie…never known Vickie either….

      1. david black says:

        I confess I find mince and tatties’ logic somewhat sphinx like. He somehow accuses your author of insulting the residents of Edinburgh council estates, including the one I was raised on, and then he heaps his own insults on the poor souls who live in the Cowgate area, where I also used to live – and by the way the locals in St Mary’s Street, Tron Square, and Coogateheid were on the whole a fine lot in my experience, much done down by the grotesque chaos of a Labour council which handed out licences to the hen ‘n stag pubs and its successors who did nothing to stop the Airbnb onslaught. Is he some sort of dark-arts representative of the oligarchs who seek to exploit our city? And why is he hiding behind a nom-de-plume?

        1. Daisy Carnegie says:

          What’s wrong with a nom de plume? We don’t all have the know-how and confidence to operate our browsers on the Onion Web in order to avoid breaking legs, as in nothing to do with performing Macbeth … but let Russell Findlay’s Acid Attack be a salutory lesson for everyone putting their heads above the parapet, as in their words on the line.

          Besides, what’s your alter ego?

          1. mince'n'tatties says:

            Daisy you have promoted your case well. But kindly allow me to go off in a slight tangent. I adopt a nom de guerre, as opposed to a de plume. I’m sure you’ll understand.
            Take care.

  9. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

    Why indeed Mr Black, why indeed. I usually find it has something to with courage. Or the lack of it.

    Or perhaps yet another Council apparatchik or troll playing defensive shields ….who knows?

    Maybe even Boy Blunder McVey’s family?

  10. Jim Ferguson says:

    Well done, I was in Berlin at Potsdamer Platz, the station is nice, the mall thing is awful, if that’s what you’re talking about. Where are all the architectural gurus now? This is first rate journalism. You begin to reveal the unfreedom of Capitalism. A few people somewhere are getting very rich, little will we see of most of them or where they hide our wealth. Our common wealth? Thank you David Black.

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