Caltongate given a Black mark

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THE man who sparked a European investigation over the Holyrood parliament building has demanded a fresh probe into the controversial £300 million Caltongate scheme.

Architectural historian David Black has contacted the European Commission with allegations the city council broke competition laws over the sale of land for the massive project.

Mr Black – a founder of the Old Town Association – has raised a number of concerns over the council's handling of the Caltongate scheme, which this week got the green light from the city's planning committee for most of its main elements.

It is unclear what the result of any investigation would be but Mr Black believes the EC could technically derail the project.

One of the key allegations centres around a patch of council-owned land, which Mr Black believes the city council supplied to Caltongate developer Mountgrange without offering it on the open market.

The old garages and land at East Market Street and Cranston Street, which includes common good land owned by the people of Edinburgh, was sold to the developer in an estimated 5 million deal nearly three years ago. A proportion of the money will go into the common good fund.

But Mr Black said: "I believe it is urgent that this is investigated. It would appear that there may have been several infringements of procurement legislation, and if there has been any infringement, this has to be made known."

Bill Cowan, spokesman for the Old Town Association, today welcomed the move. He said: "If Mr Black can take the matter to the European Commission, then that's tremendous. There has been the sale of common good land which does not belong to the council – it belongs to you and I. There is a process involved with that which has not been carried out."

The main Caltongate site, which incorporates the old New Street bus depot, was put up for sale by the Scottish Transport Group in 1990. A joint venture company headed by London company the Cuckfield Group and Dutch firm Sofam got the go-ahead for a 100m development in 2002.

The site changed hands again early in 2005 and it emerged that the new developer, Mountgrange, was pursuing much bigger plans. The company also wanted to develop the council-owned arched lock-up garages opposite the council HQ next to Waverley Station.

Mountgrange was one of two potential bidders for the site, with the other an unidentified company offering to develop the site in isolation as new offices.

Council officials said at the time that Mountgrange was the only developer that could offer "comprehensive and co-ordinated development for the wider area by combining their land interest with those of the council".

A council spokesman said: "The council's financial involvement relates to commercial agreements on property which have been reported openly to the council. It is routine for public and privately-owned land to be taken together for the sake of developments that benefit the city. We are obliged to raise market value on property we sell and we are comfortable that we have done that. If anyone has any information that rules have not been followed, they should bring that to our attention."

Five years ago, Mr Black lodged a complaint with the European Commission over the 414m parliament project, alleging mismanagement, secrecy and bias. The Commission decided that although rules were broken, no further action should be taken because the Scottish Executive had taken steps to prevent a repeat.