Homelessness project binned

Thursday October 8th 2020

Loanhead-Police-Station

The forme Police Station in Loanhead.


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Plans to turn a former police station into homeless flats have been scrapped amid growing concern at the spiralling cost.

Midlothian Council bought Loanhead Police Station for £210,000 with a view to converting it into temporary accommodation for seven tenants.

However, councillors brought the plans to a halt after they were told the original estimate for the work had nearly doubled from £350,000 to more than £600,000.

At a meeting in August, they delayed approving the work and ordered officers to bring a report to their next meeting setting out their options.

And this week, councillors voted to put the building up for sale and look for housing on the private market instead.

Councillors were presented with four options which saw the cost going even higher.

Option one, to refurbish the police station to create seven-bed accommodation, was now being quoted at more than £881,000; options two and three both involved demolishing the building and building new accommodation and took the cost to over £1million.

The fourth option was to dispose of the building by putting it back on the market.

Councillor Russell Imrie led the call to sell the building, asking fellow councillors to back his motion to dispose of the site and “utilise the money in purchasing from private sellers”.

During a virtual meeting of the council, Mr Imrie said: “We can get a pretty good deal at the moment with private sales. I believe this is a real opportunity.”

He was backed by Councillor Colin Cassidy, who, faced with the options to rebuild or refurbish the former police station, told colleagues:

“We do not have a great history in Midlothian of making silk purses out of pigs’ ears, and that is what we are looking at here.”

In August, Kevin Anderson, executive director, told councillors that the original estimate for refurbishing the building “didn’t take into account the change of use for residential purposes”.

He said: “Subsequently [it] didn’t account for the improvements which are required; also, as you’ll understand, the new sprinkler installation requirements that there are post the Grenfell incident, and also in terms of additional security measures we put in place to safeguard residents and any concerns from the communities which we have experienced before in Pentland and Bonnyrigg with these temporary accommodation units.

“So consequently that has effectively doubled the cost in terms of Loanhead.”

Councillor Cassidy criticised the spiralling costs of the project and others, saying it was damaging the local authority’s reputation.

He said: “If you go on any social media site, Midlothian Council is being dragged through the mud because these projects are going on with such high overcosts.”

The council this week agreed unanimously to put the building up for sale and use the funds to buy from the private market.

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