Marketing strategy identified restoration interest

The Scottish government accepted the recommendation from one of its reporters who concluded that the demolition of a category C listed building in Edinburgh should be retained and permission for two houses on the site denied, after agreeing that restoration of the property appeared to be a realistic possibility.

The property had been built in 1908 as a golf clubhouse in the arts and crafts style and formed part of a larger estate. In the 1950s it was converted as part of a dairy farm and radical changes were made to its internal fabric. In 1980 the city council obtained ownership on the understanding that it remained part of a wider area of public open space, farm and woodlands. In 2008 the council marketed the property for sale and again in 2011.

A developer submitted a successful bid which involved its demolition and the erection of two dwellings, the council proposing to reinvest the proceeds from the sale into the management of the wider area. This led the Scottish government to call in both the listed building and planning applications.

The reporter decided, notwithstanding its poor condition, that the building remained of special interest, a view supported by Historic Scotland. Nonetheless, the submitted information suggested that the cost of repairing the building and bringing it into viable use would be economically unsustainable. However, following the council’s acceptance of the applicant’s bid, another party submitted a bid which was based on restoring the property to a family house. The council refused to open the bid because it fell outside the rules laid down for its submission.

The reporter was critical of this rigid application of the bidding process because the object was to make every effort to save the building and find a restoring purchaser. In his opinion the process should be less restrictive and more responsive to opportunity. The fact that the bid was submitted outside the strict procurement rules laid down by the council was insufficient reason to prevent somebody from saving a listed building from demolition.

The benefit of reusing the proceeds of the sale from the applicant to improve the public park was a local not regional benefit, the reporter held. It would not be able to effect significant improvements to the park and the building which formed an integral part of the history of the wider area would be lost. In his view the Scottish historic environment policy was clear in requiring that priority be given to a restoring purchaser before demolition was contemplated.

The fact that restoration of the property was not economic was insufficient to exclude a purchaser willing to spend more on its refurbishment than its ultimate market value. The procedure adopted by the council had failed to given sufficient weight to this possibility which conflicted with national policy, and the Scottish government agreed.

Reporter Dannie Onn; Hearing

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