The Fountain Brewery in the Fountainbridge area of central Edinburgh was formerly one of the largest breweries in Europe. After beer production was relocated elsewhere, the extensive site was flattened and sold for redevelopment. Grosvenor, an international property development business, took on part of the site. Knowing that development of their site would take a number of years and that plans would need to evolve, Grosvenor recognised the importance to their project of effective community engagement and of building a positive working relationship. Moreover, they wished to address negative perceptions of the area being a derelict wasteland which had lost its sense of community
Meanwhile, Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative (FCI), an alliance of local community activists and interest groups, were undertaking public consultation on the future of the neighbourhood. The idea of a community garden was suggested and attracted considerable support. FCI discussed the idea of a temporary community garden on Grosvenor’s land with the developer, who were immediately receptive to the idea. Accordingly, in the spring of 2012, FCI set up a working group to research and develop the idea and take forward dialogue with Grosvenor.
In due course, this led to agreement being reached in principle for a movable garden consisting of planting boxes based on pallets. Then it was full steam ahead to sort out the practical and technical details ahead of the 2013 growing season. An initial site for the garden, extending to about 600m2, was agreed upon and Grosvenor engaged landscape architects to work up a more detailed design which provided for 75 pallet boxes. In addition Grosvenor provided two shipping containers; one for storage and the other a welfare unit fitted out with a toilet, sink, and office space; and also fencing to enclose the garden.
Pallet boxes were built and the fledgling community gardening group adopted a formal constitution, opened a bank account and arranged public liability insurance. The legal agreement for temporary use of the site was documented in a straightforward licence agreement which is for no set duration but instead provides that the landowner can terminate at a minimum of two months’ notice. The licence was signed in March 2013 and the Grove Community Garden was under way.
The Grove had a hugely successful first year, with membership growing to 85 people from a diverse mix of backgrounds and demand for pallet boxes (some of which are allocated to individuals, others used for communal fruit and vegetable growing) soon exceeding supply. Working to ethics of growing organically, fostering a sense of community and utilising varied skills, the group have enjoyed growing and sharing good food and the social benefits of gardening together.
Given the popularity of the garden, the group reached agreement with Grosvenor to enlarge it and in February 2014 a further 200m2 was added, giving space for more pallet boxes and perhaps a polytunnel. Having seen what has been achieved so far, a local authority controlled company who own a different part of the former brewery site have now also agreed to make land available to the gardening group on a meanwhile-use basis and plans for “the Grove 2” are being developed.
Discussing what would happen when the landowner wanted to start building on the current garden site, Grove Committee member Dave Leslie commented that although the formal licence only provides for two months’ notice, in practice their dialogue with Grosvenor is such that they would expect to have considerably more advance notice of the need to vacate the site. He explained that the group have three plans for when it becomes necessary to move on. The preferred option, for so long as parts of Grosvenor’s site remain undeveloped, is to relocate within Grosvenor’s property. The second option would be to seek to move onto any other land in the locality for the time being vacant. The last resort would be to disperse the pallet boxes to other community gardens in and around the City.
Giving a land manager’s perspective on the benefits and risks of permitting meanwhile use Robin Blacklock, Grosvenor’s Project Director for their Edinburgh development, outlined that the agreement was mutually beneficial in fostering community engagement and developing a positive working relationship. Discussing mitigating potential risks such as possible difficulty in regaining possession of the land, inappropriate use of the land or damage to the land, he said “the most important single factor is trust; knowing that the group are organised and responsible and having developed rapport and mutual respect.”
Read more about the Grove community garden at http://grovecommunitygarden.wordpress.com/
Information about Grosvenor’s developments on www.grosvenor.com
Scotland@communitylandadvice.org.uk or tel. 0131 623 7058