Dentist to sue council for ripping up garden

THE owner of a dental surgery has vowed to sue the city council after workmen with a JCB digger were sent to rip up his £38,000 "illegal" garden.

Andrew Ditchburn had spent the money transforming the area in front of the Dental Express branch in Portobello, installing new gates and paving over the tired garden area.

But while staff and patients were pleased with the improvements, the unauthorised work sparked a three-year planning wrangle which ended yesterday in the city council sending in a team to put it back to how it was before.

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Mr Ditchburn said he was "totally shocked" at the "Nazi-style" move by the city council. He said the only warning he received that the local authority was going to take action against his surgery was a letter which arrived at 11am - two hours after work had begun.

Traffic on Brighton Place ground to a halt as workers first tore the gates off the entrance and then laid waste to its monoblock garden as patients squeezed past the digger to get into the surgery.

Mr Ditchburn said: "Never in my 55 years as a professional have I experienced something like this. The whole thing was done in a Nazi style.

"It costs us 14,000 to provide each dentist with sterile equipment, but we're paying for an 'illegal garden' that the council don't like to be landscaped. We will see the council in court for this."

The dental firm, which claims to be the largest by patient numbers in the Lothians, had the work, which cost 38,000, carried out by a paving firm three years ago.

Mr Ditchburn said he was later told by the city council that planning permission had been refused, but that the firm had carried out the work anyway.

He said: "I found out that the planning consent had not gone ahead six months after they finished. They sent me an enforcement notice in November 2009, and said the garden wasn't in accordance with the conservation area.

"However, we were happy to work with the council, and came up with a plan on 8 March this year, in which we would remove the monoblocking and lay two areas of grass down at a cost of around 7,500. That was the last correspondence we had before today.

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"Everything was correct and we were waiting on estimates to start the work. Work had technically started because we removed the sign the council didn't like, and then this.

"It'll cost us 30,000 to repair the damage they did - that's normally money that would be spent on treatment and equipment.

I employ 60 people and 14 professionals in the area and we've spent 4.5 million in our developments in Edinburgh for ordinary working people, but after all that, this is how the council treat us."

Christine Allan, a retired swimming teacher from Craigentinny, was among those patients who had to sit through the sound of a mechanical digger just yards away as she had a filling changed.

The 62-year-old said: "When I came out the digger was sitting across the whole yard. I couldn't get around so they stopped working and put down some wobbly wooden planks."

The city council said it only sent Dental Express a letter as a courtesy, adding that it did not have to warn the firm of the action.

A city council spokeswoman said: "Work was carried out today to restore the garden ground to its previous condition following unauthorised work and a failure to comply with an enforcement notice."