Councillors root for bid to keep garden in public use

A HISTORIC garden site could remain in public hands after councillors decided to appeal to the Scottish Government to stop it being sold on the open market.

Councillors have voted to launch a bid to keep the B-listed Millbuies House at Gogarbank – which current joint owners Oatridge College and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) want to sell – in educational use.

Both the house and adjacent garden, known as Suntrap, were built by pioneering philanthropist George Boyd Anderson in the late 1950s.

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Campaigners from the group Save Our Suntrap have hailed the decision of the city council’s transport, infrastructure and environment committee as a “breakthrough”, which could save the site for future generations.

They plan to turn Millbuies House into a heritage centre and establish the grounds as a centre of excellence, delivering horticulture training and therapy to amateur and professional gardeners, school pupils and people with disabilities and health problems.

The Scottish Government must now decide whether it will accept the council’s appeal and what conditions it will attach to any sale of Millbuies House.

Isobel Lodge, chair of Save Our Suntrap, said: “I suspect that [Oatridge College and NTS] will continue saying that they want to sell but this decision makes it much more difficult for them. A successful appeal saying the house has to remain in educational use would inhibit the commercial sale of the site and make it much more likely that the current owners would look at us and our proposals more favourably.

“We just want them to give us more time to raise the money and put together our proposal.”

In addition to an appeal to the Scottish Government, councillors will write to Oatridge College and NTS requesting a delay of six months on any sale to give campaigners time to complete an alternative business plan.

Bosses at Oatridge College said they were ready to continue negotiating with campaigners.

College principal David James said: “Oatridge College has not used the Suntrap site for almost two years because to continue to do so would have required significant capital expenditure which in difficult financial times we simply cannot afford.

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“During that time we have allowed the Friends of Suntrap to use the site without charge while they develop a viable business plan.

“The college remains prepared to discuss a viable business plan but [it] would have to ensure that we get best value for the public purse.”

But NTS leaders said they had already given campaigners plenty of time to put together a proposal and would press ahead with plans to sell.

Terry Levinthal, NTS’ director of conservation services and projects, said: “We have been more than patient with the Friends and have given them well over a year to come up with viable, alternative options that would not require the [NTS] to meet the running costs of Suntrap.

“No such options have come forward and, as we ourselves are a charity, we would be in breach of our fiduciary duties if we allowed the situation to continue indefinitely.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We can confirm that [Oatridge College] does have to notify us of any intention to dispose of [Millbuies House] and we await further information on this issue from the city council.”