Is the Sun Going Down on Suntrap?

Suntrap Garden, on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, has delighted visitors for years, but if funding is not found for a buyout soon, the sun may be about to go down on this lovely place. National Trust for Scotland, who own the gardens and Oatridge College, who own Millbuies House, are both placing their properties on the market.

Suntrap was bequeathed to the Trust in 1957 by George Boyd Anderson to provide a centre for horticultural advice and education. As the garden had minimal value and was of limited use for conservation purposes, the Trust disposed of it to Lothian Regional Council through a leasing arrangement then in 1983 sold the ground, along with Millbuies House, to the Council outright. In line with George Boyd Anderson’s wishes, the Council arranged for it to be used as a horticultural training facility by leasing it to Oatridge Agricultural College. The College offered a wide range of courses for a number of years but a clause in the original sale stipulated that the garden should revert to NTS ownership, should Oatridge no longer want it.

Suntrap Open Day

Meanwhile, the Friends of Suntrap was formed by a bunch of enthusiastic gardeners who supported the work of the college and the garden, organising events and helping with open days. During the months of May to September, the ‘Friends’ manned the garden on Sunday afternoons where they were happy to chat to the public and answer their questions and to use the gardens as a centre of excellence for therapeutic gardening, offering additional courses and support to a range of people with disability, behavioural, mental health issues or learning difficulties, as well as healthy individuals.

George Boyd Anderson stipulated that if a training facility was not possible, the property should not incur any costs to the Trust and there was no constraint on its sale, leaving the way open for the present situation, which is that NTS is offering the garden for sale and Oatridge College, who are also also facing mergers and cuts, is offering the House for sale.

Ironically, Historic Scotland Listed the house earlier this year, acknowledging it as an innovative and experimental energy saving house and a rare surviving example of early post-war Modernist design in Scotland. The house retains many original fixtures and fittings as well as the accumulated historical records relating to the visionary George Boyd Anderson. As well as the house being listed, “The Dovecot” and “The Compost Shelter” are also listed Grade “B”.

National Trust for Scotland announced that it was to dispose of Suntrap Garden, Gogarburn on 2 February 2011, but delayed the process to allow the Friends of Suntrap to come up with a business plan to purchase and/or manage the site.

Terry Levinthal, the National Trust for Scotland’s Director of Conservation Services and Projects said: “Suntrap has very little heritage value and we have no right or justification to use the funds donated to us as a charity to continue to meet its running costs. Every penny we are spending on Suntrap is being lost to the nationally and internationally important gardens we care for elsewhere.

“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 Trust 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.
“Any proceeds from the sale of Suntrap Garden will go towards the conservation of Trust properties in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Morayshire and Cairngorms in accordance with George Boyd Anderson’s wishes.”

Similarly, Deputy Principal Des Martin of Oatridge College told us, “Oatridge stopped using Suntrap in 2010 because an independent survey carried out the year before found that it would cost £750,000 for the maintenance of and improvements to the Millbuies and Suntrap sites, and a further £78,000 was required to comply with disability legislation. At a time of severe economic constraints we could not afford that level of investment. The Board also decided at that time to reduce the number of horticultural courses the College was running. We no longer needed Millbuies House, but we allowed the Friends of Suntrap to continue using the site. They have had two years to come up with a viable business plan which would ensure that the College gets best value for the public purse from the disposal of Millbuies. The Friends have been unable to produce such a viable plan.”

However, since January, the group have been working with Business Pointer, who have come up with what they feel is a more robust business plan with realistic figures. With funding they could acquire the site to safeguard their future and offer services – run by trained volunteers – to other charities who would benefit from the experience of small-scale gardening and horticultural education. Edinburgh Council supports the Friends’ plan and is appealing to the Scottish Government to prevent the house being removed from educational use. There has been considerable local and political interest in the campaign but so far, insufficient financial commitment. A new website, Save our Suntrap, offers interested parties the opportunity to contribute to the fund-raising process.

The bungalow, outhouses and 3 acres of gardens are for sale with a guide price of £395,000 while Millbuies House with its own garden will be going on sale in August, valued at just over £300,00. Isobel Lodge, Chair of the Save Our Suntrap campaign and Secretary of the Friends of Suntrap said, “We’ve a coherent business plan and positive responses from many potential funders and users. Why is it that they can’t wait for 6 months to allow us to make a commercial offer to retain this community asset?”

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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