City ‘missing Roman remains opportunity’

CITY council chiefs are under fire from the Scottish Parliament for dragging their feet on plans to turn the Roman remains at Cramond into a tourist attraction.

It is nearly three years since MSPs first proposed Edinburgh City Council should take the lead in exploring the potential for a visitor centre to chart the history of the 1800-year-old fort and open some excavations to the public.

And now the parliament’s education committee has agreed unanimously to tell the council it is not satisfied with progress.

Meanwhile, the council’s planning committee has accepted proposals for 155 luxury homes on the nearby former Moray House campus, but delayed a decision on controversial plans for a country club amid fears about traffic problems it could create.

Developers Bryant Homes Scotland and AMA claim they need the country club to help finance the running costs of playing fields and a pavilion which are also part of the plans. But the committee was sceptical about the firm s’ estimate of annual maintenance costs of up to 400,000.

More than 100 objections were received, but planning officials had recommended approval of the proposals for the campus in Cramond Road North, which was hit by an arson attack last month.

Planning convener Bob Cairns said part of the housing development had been designed by award-winning architect Richard Murphy and was of a very high standard. But he added: "They want to build a large country club beside it with a bar that could in theory hold 1800 people, and we are certainly worried about the impact that would have so have asked them to consider whether that building is necessary.

"Their argument is the income from it is needed for the upkeep of the playing fields, which they put at 400,000. I find that extremely hard to believe."

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith, who has voiced concerns about safety because of the difficult access to the site, said she was delighted a decision had been delayed. And she suggested the developers could use profits from the luxury homes to set up a trust for the upkeep of the playing fields.

Local campaigner Ronnie Guild said the Bryant/AMA scheme would be a setback to attempts to preserve the Roman remains because it included the demolition of a sports hall he believes could be converted to a visitor centre, and took away land which could be used for a new car park.

Mr Guild, who first raised the issue of the Roman remains with the parliament, is to accompany Scottish Nationalist MSP Mike Russell when he seeks a meeting with the council to discuss MSPs’ concerns.

Mr Russell said: "The council is missing a major opportunity in developing its Roman heritage. We can’t tell the council to do anything, but the education committee is unanimously agreed the council is not meeting its obligations. I’m worried the piecemeal approach being taken on development is going to further damage the site."

Councillor Cairns said all other Roman remains in Scotland were looked after by Historic Scotland. He added: "If the parliament thinks these are important remains, the parliament should take responsibility for them. "

A council spokeswoman said a management committee had been formed, bringing together representatives of the landowners and the council, Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage and other local organisations. One of its main priorities was a draft brief for the future of Cramond, including short-term initiatives, such as improvement to signage.

A spokesman for Bryant Homes Scotland said the firm would be providing the council with further information on its costings as requested.