Release of legal bill for St James Centre and Impact Centre legal dispute blocked by council

The amount of taxpayer cash spent by Edinburgh City Council on the mediation and threatened judicial review around a dispute between a new concert hall and the £1bn St James Centre will stay secret.

The initial plans for the concert hall which were binned following threats of legal action
The initial plans for the concert hall which were binned following threats of legal action

The council refused to respond to a freedom of information request on the topic claiming the release of the information would “prejudice substantially the commercial interests of the council”.

This is despite council papers in March indicating at least £28,000 was spent on external legal advice during the dispute, but it is not known whether that is the full amount.

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The dispute between the St James Centre and the Impact Centre concert hall has been central to a transparency battle since the announcement that an agreement had been reached which led to the £45m plans for the hall to be binned.

Nuveen, the developers behind the St James Centre, had threatened legal action through a judicial review after the council initially approved the plans for the concert hall.

The council then stepped in to mediate the dispute in an attempt to stop the issue ending in court.

A joint minute between the parties, the full details of which were exclusively revealed in the Evening News earlier this year, detailed that the plans were to be scrapped and resubmitted to “better align” with the plans for the St James Centre.

It meant Impact Scotland, the developers of the concert have been forced to undergo a “substantial redesign” of their plans, with the new plans yet to be submitted.

Conservative Group Chair Councillor Jason Rust said, "It would seem to be in the public interest that we know what the costs of mediation were. This is taxpayers money and the Council should therefore be as transparent as possible."

A council spokesperson said: “It’s good practice for us to mediate disputes to avoid lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. We’re pleased the process was successful in this case.”

Since 2015 and up to April 2020, the council has spent almost £2.5m per year on external legal fees, and around £150,000 on services from the Faculty of Advocates per year, costing the taxpayer more than £12.5m in total.

In total, the council spent £11,862,612 in external legal fees, and £766,488 in Faculty of Advocates services, with a combined total spend of £12,567,543.

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