Edinburgh eviction dispute heads to top Scottish court
Sarah Townsend, Regeneration & Renewal
A legal dispute between a group of community organisations and Edinburgh City Council has escalated after the community groups secured a hearing in Scotland’s highest court to fight the council’s decision to evict them from their offices.
In November 2008, the council served an eviction notice on the Capacity Building Project (CBP), a charity that runs the Craigmillar Settlement community centre and represents the 12 community groups that regularly use its facilities.
The notice, seen by Regeneration & Renewal, said: "Owing to an operational need that has arisen within the council, it has become necessary to terminate (CBP’s) lease." Other organisations using the centre would also be evicted, it said.
CBP company secretary David Walker said that the council planned to terminate a lease it held on office space occupied by its social services department and house the staff in the community centre instead.
But CPB, which rents the building from the council on a long lease, refused to vacate the building and, since April 2009, has been embroiled in a legal battle against the council in Scotland’s sheriff courts.
Walker said that these court proceedings reached the stage where the charity was advised that it should seek professional representation. It secured free legal support from the Faculty of Advocates, the representative body for Scottish trial lawyers, which told CBP that it would have a stronger case in the Court of Session, the supreme civil court of Scotland, he said.
The charity has now secured a four-day hearing at the Court of Session, due to start on 30 November.
Walker said CBP would argue that the council had not followed mandatory public sector equalities legislation and failed to properly consult with local people before deciding to evict community groups from the centre.
He added that the charity would also argue that the council breached race relations policies because it had failed to consult with ethnic minority groups, including Turks and Kurds, which use the centre as a meeting place and mosque.
A spokeswoman for watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland said: "CPB has raised a ‘core action’ to challenge the city council on whether it has fulfilled its equalities duties. We will be given the opportunity to advise the court on what exactly public sector bodies must do in order to fulfil these duties."
Walker claimed that the council – in seeking to evict the community groups and use the centre to house its own staff – had breached the conditions imposed when it acquired the building from the University of Edinburgh 72 years ago. These conditions stated that it should be used to further "social, educational or recreational purposes".
Walker said: "We are determined that (the community centre) remains in community ownership."
An Edinburgh City Council spokeswoman said: "The matter is now in the hands of our legal team."