When lawyers get to play a part in history

Stuart Macfarlane crop (2)
Stuart Macfarlane

By Stuart Macfarlane, partner in the property and construction team at Weightmans (Scotland) LLP

IN terms of the law, the property and construction lawyers’ role in creating developments may be crucial, but there’s not much to the job we do that captures the imagination of family and friends.

Passing by a building and pointing out that we prepared the legal framework for the development is more likely to prompt a snore than a pat on the back.  However, there are times when the lawyers get to be at the heart of something truly exciting.

In Scotland, it’s often the case that our glorious heritage is the catalyst for modern development, and there are many recent examples where this has worked well.

In Glasgow, the Zaha Hadid designed Riverside Museum that houses the city’s famous transport collection, alongside the 19th century tall ship ‘The Glenlee’, sit at the heart of a 120 acre mixed use development of modern commercial, leisure, housing, infrastructure, retail and amenity space.

In Edinburgh, the presence of the Royal Yacht Britannia has inspired significant regeneration around the Leith and Granton area and continues to do so to this day, while in Aberdeen, the planned £320 million project, currently under consideration, to extend the Harbour into Nigg Bay with associated infrastructure development, will undoubtedly drive other improvements within the area.

What all of these projects have in common is the presence of heritage stimulating and driving modern development.

Nowhere is this truer than Dundee: City of Discovery, where giving the waterfront area a facelift has been taken to the nth degree, all revolving around the ship that gave Dundee its new name – the RRS Discovery.

Having done a fantastic job of bringing the ship to Dundee in 1986, and by 1993 having created one of Scotland’s most loved visitor attractions, the Dundee Heritage Trust could not have imagined what would be sparked some years down the line by the return of Scott’s ship to her home port.

Now, the £1 billion regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront, anchored by the V&A Museum of Design, is well underway, and the surroundings into which The Discovery had settled so well are already unrecognisable.

There is always a danger that the original inspiration could get lost amid such development.  But not in Dundee.  What you don’t see when you pass through the transforming city is the work that has gone in behind the scenes to make sure Discovery stays safe.  The new feather in Dundee’s cap, the V&A, is being developed right beside the old ship, but the lengths to which Dundee City Council has gone to ensure preservation of the RRS Discovery means new and old will sit alongside each other for many years to come.

The piling taking place close to the development could easily have shaken the timber ship to bits, and many other dangers were close at hand.  Experts from many fields were contacted to give their views – to dry dock or to keep the Discovery afloat to minimise vibration?  How to make this happen within the context of a complex ongoing development that, like any other, is running to a timescale and a budget?

And as well as the development running to a budget, the Discovery, one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions also needed to stay afloat commercially during the ongoing work.  As a Visit Scotland 5-star visitor attraction, and with a busy diary of conferences and events running alongside day-to-day tourist traffic, it was vital that agreements were made about access and potential disruption.

A complex method statement was agreed for work around any sensitive locations, to which all parties both contributed and agreed.  Access, sequencing and most importantly, protection of the ship where agreed, with Discovery now dry docked and regularly monitored in its secure dock for the duration, protecting it from the impact of heavy work going on around the area.

All of these challenging debates and discussions had to be documented and captured within a series of unique legal agreements, and the vast range of parties should be commended for working together to secure the future of the ship within the modern development that it sparked.  And with this, the property and construction lawyers finally got to play their (small) part in preserving history.

Next time I pass through Dundee; I’ll be pointing it out with pride.