The owners of arguably the largest eyesore in Leith, UNITE, were successful this week in their bid to renew their existing planning consent for Shrubhill House, even though the firm has failed to build anything there since it bought the site in 2006.
Local councillors on the planning committee, Angela Blacklock and Diedre Brock, failed to persuade the planning committee – by just one vote – to deny the firm a new planning consent. However UNITE did not get things all their own way – in the end they got an 18 month planning consent when they had hoped to be given the “standard” three year consent.
Councillors awarded the shorter 18 month consent largely on the basis that they felt UNITE could appeal an outright refusal decision for being “overly punitive” – and then the Reporter for the Scottish Government would overturn the council planning committee and award a three year consent anyway.
The apparent powerlessness of the planning committee to reflect local views will be a huge disappointment to many locals – not least those involved in Leith Central Community Council.
Community councillors have been arguing for some time – sometimes directly with the developer – that the lack of progress on the site has in fact been overly punitive to the local community. They claim the site has become a focus for drug dealing and other anti-social behaviour – and that it blights the whole area economically.
Certainly there are plenty of people who believe that UNITE are simply “land banking” – as the site is likely to be worth considerably less than the £6m plus that they paid for it 2006. There is a view that if they firm were denied planning permission then they’d be forced to sell the site at a lower price on to another investor who could then get on and build something.
As things stand now, UNITE do not have to write down the value of their “asset” on their books, and they can continue to try to sell it on. But will anyone be willing to pay the price they want for the site?
Few seem to think so – although it is understood from one source that a hotel developer has been “sniffing” around the site recently.
In the meantime – UNITE have pledged to step up their efforts to keep the site secure – and the council, having decided that they can’t force UNITE to demolish the building via the planning committee – continue to consider what legal levers they might have to force the firm to do something to make it look marginally less appalling.
Barring a small economic miracle in North Edinburgh, nearly everyone expects this one to return to the planning committee in 18 months time.
You can find more details of the relevant planning application here.