Hotel switch plan is headline story for old newspaper base

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A HISTORIC city centre building that was the original home of The Scotsman newspaper is to be sold to a family that runs a series of homeless hostels in Edinburgh.

The council-owned B-listed building in Anchor Close, off Cockburn Street, has been snapped up by Khwaja and Shabana Akbar Mir, who have agreed to spend 1.35 million on buying the building to turn it into an aparthotel.

They insisted today that they would not turn it into a homeless hostel and would instead be targeting the tourism sector when they bring the building, formerly used as council offices, back into use.

There have been a string of complaints about the disruptive behaviour of people who live in other bedsits owned by the family.

Mrs Akbar said: "As far as I know it will be an aparthotel, but it is early on in the proposals so I don't have much detail."

When asked whether it is likely that the property could become a homeless hostel, she said: "No, this will be entirely different. This will be aimed at tourists."

The Akbar family has faced a string of complaints concerning properties it rents out in the city.

There were complaints of drug-taking, drunken people having sex in the garden and tenants living in "appalling conditions" at a property in London Street in 2003.

Since then there have been complaints of poor maintenance at another home in Leith, while plans to open a refuge for homeless women in Portobello attracted 234 objections.

However, the Akbars have been moving away from their homeless hostel business in order to target tourists and have stopped taking homeless referrals from the council at a number of their guesthouses, including those on Leith Links.

Councillor Jason Rust, the economic development spokesman for the Conservative group on the city council, said: "It is better that city centre buildings, especially older buildings, are in use. If they are surplus to requirements by the council, it makes sense to look to sell them on."

Council officials have recommended that the building is sold to the Akbar family, despite them not being the highest bidder. The highest offer was rejected because of concerns over whether the bidder had the finances in place.

Council officials had initially hoped to secure a deal of around 1.6m for the building.

Following conclusion of any deal, which still has to win approval from councillors at a meeting on Tuesday before it is concluded, the family will have to go through the normal planning process to gain approval to renovate the building.A council spokesman said: "We're obliged to get the best possible return on any sale and there are controls in place to protect the community's interests in how a property is used."