David Key SNP Councillor of Craiglockhart and Fountainbridge Ward
“I would ask you to read the supporting documentation put before the committee. On every page there is at least one paragraph that points out that this application runs contrary to a large number of local and national planning guidelines and policies. There are breaches of the Local Development Plan. The settings of the Grade A listed buildings are spoilt by the proposed new build. And so it goes on. The surprise is that the planning officials then recommended approval for the application. The bigger surprise is that the Planning Committee approved that recommendation, albeit by a margin of 9 to 6.
This approval was based on an enabling case that is cited as the only way to protect the A listed buildings. This examination of the financial case for this is backed up by a very flimsy 8 page document at App2 to the planning paper – it is not a convincing document. I was also very dismayed by the Planning Convener’s public statement on the decision which reads:
“This has been a very difficult decision for the Committee to make and I appreciate that not everyone will be happy. The Committee’s main concern was to protect the listed buildings from further deterioration and I believe that this was the best outcome for the site.
“During the three years that this proposal has been discussed, the developer has taken on board some concerns from the local community such as significantly reducing the number of houses to be built on the site. The developer has also agreed to hand over 80% of the land to allow the public to access open space and woodland.”
Firstly, above all else, it is the building owner’s responsibility to maintain the buildings to an appropriate standard. The Council should not be cowed into supporting this type of speculative development in order to relieve them of their statutory responsibilities.
Secondly, although there has been a reduction of the new build proposed this does not mean that the latest proposal is the right amount of new build.
Thirdly, the developer and the planners both know that public access to the grounds was an absolute requirement for any proposed development.
This application is the most contentious in the history of Edinburgh. It has rolled on for 3 years. It has received more objections than any other application – several thousand. On the day of the hearing all of the local elected representatives (1 MP, 2 MSPs, 6 CEC councillors) spoke in support of the community and asked the committee to reject the application. Every Community Council involved asked for a rejection. A number of city-wide and local interest groups expressed their concerns and spoke eloquently even offering alternatives uses for the site.
In spite of this body of oral evidence on top of the quite damning application report, the committee approved the application. Indeed, one of the planning committee councillors stated in his summing up that they, as planning members, should not take local opinion into account when coming to a decision.
What then is the point of a planning system that proactively seeks comment and involvement from the local community at all levels of application if these very people are ignored?
What is the point of Community Councils if, when they put forward a well-researched and detailed case, their views are dismissed?
What is the point of local democracy if the views of elected representatives across the political spectrum are not given fair weight?
What is the point of a much vaunted Community Empowerment Bill if this is the sort of precedent we are seeing in our Capital City?
Please call in this decision immediately and subject it to the appropriate level of impartial, forensic scrutiny that it deserves.”
Councillor Sandy Howat – Vice Convenor of Planning
“As the Scottish Government progresses with the Community Empowerment Bill, failure to ‘call in’ the application would be against the set aims of the government in empowering communities to be an integral part of genuinely bringing a positive enhancement to their communities and feel truly a part of the system governing our land. All seven local Councillors, the constituency MSP, a local list MSP, local MP and the three local Community Councils all opposed the development. They spoke for the thousands of residents who campaigned to see a more appropriate development take place. Without additional scrutiny of the decision the very essence of democracy will be a loser.
I do not wish to denigrate the work undertaken by my fellow Councillors on the Planning Committee. My colleagues have given considerable thought to the application and the competing policy aims. It is in this context, where the list of breached policies is long and the argument to overturn them so thin, that would see a benefit in having additional scrutiny of the application.
There would appear to simply be three tests set out in SPP 142 with regard to ‘Enabling Development’. My personal view is that the policy aim, whilst presently insufficient in detail, has not been met.
“Enabling development may be acceptable where it can be clearly shown to be the only means of preventing the loss of the asset and securing its long-term future. Any development should be the minimum necessary to achieve these aims. The resultant development should be designed and sited carefully to preserve or enhance the character and setting of the historic asset.”
With regard to the first sentence, there is little evidence to suggest that thorough research of alternatives has been undertaken. Pertaining to the second, how is a minimum arrived at? The economic calculations used within the application have been openly challenged yet there is an absence of a robust and clear methodology in assessing how neither a conservation deficit nor a level of appropriate profit can be arrived at. The final sentence only serves to add insult to injury with the application report itself citing numerous breaches of character and setting on an historic, listed and supposedly protected site.
Of the three tests laid out in SPP 142 at best it could be stated that the first two require considerably more detail in order to be effective and instructive. In the case of Craighouse it is most difficult to see how the aims have been met. The third test has clearly not been met, even closely. I therefore have little recourse but to request that the application, and the pertinence of SPP 142, be given the benefit of additional scrutiny.
The Craighouse application covers a wide range of conflicting policy aims; the report itself states a high degree of detriment when assessing the impacts of the application as proposed. ‘Calling in’ the application would allow the Scottish Government to set exemplar standards of planning, listed buildings, natural heritage and economic development policies. It is an opportunity to shape the future plan led development of our country and it should not be missed.”
Council Leader Andrew Burns – Labour Cllr Craiglockhart and Fountainbridge:
“As I’m sure you’ll be aware, the decision was also taken in the face of major public objection … from two MSPs, one Westminster MP, six local councillors (myself included), all of the surrounding Community Councils, and various heritage organisations; not to mention thousands of local residents who have, over the course of many months, signed petitions against the plans and/or recorded objections with the Planning Department. Very, very few people in the local community supported the plans.
The decision stands in contravention of a number of national planning policies and will overturn national protections on listed buildings and their setting; wildlife and biodiversity. No one is contesting this — with Officers putting forward the application for approval on the sole basis of it being ‘enabling development’. Yet all the indications from the published documentation indicated to me, that it failed all tests incorporated in the Scottish Planning Policy 142 for such ‘enabling development’.
As it stands, the application will therefore cause considerable and irreparable damage to the environment and place a significant and unsustainable burden on local infrastructure. The site has for many years been open to access for the local community, and although access is not scheduled to be withdrawn, the very nature of the proposed new-build means that access will indeed be severely restricted.
The overall resulting loss of green space cannot be over-estimated, not just for the local community but also for Edinburgh as a whole; and with undoubted implications for future decisions on similar ‘enabling development’ applications throughout the country.
I do urge you therefore, to call-in and review this specific application … I am personally convinced it is of national importance with potentially nationwide implications.”
Melanie Main – Green Councillor Meadows and Morningside
“The historic Craighouse site has been part of peoples’ lives for generations in Edinburgh. It’s a loved beauty spot, one of Edinburgh’s seven hills, and part of what makes the city a wonderful place to live and visit, whether you see it in protected views from other parts of the city, or enjoy walking through the woods and open space. The site is of national significance.
The historic buildings and their landscape setting are protected by numerous national and local policies which this application contravened.
Yet the application was passed by a narrow majority of the Planning Committee against these policies and against the thousands of objections from individuals along with those of 6 local Councillors, 2 MSPs, 1 MP, 7 Community Councils, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Spokes and numerous other groups and organisations.
The community has been completely disempowered. In a time when the referendum has engaged so many people this feels like a very real slap in the face for so many of my constituents who tell me they have lost all faith in public engagement and the planning system – a planning system that it is claimed operates in the long-term public interest, but in this case has allowed overriding public interest to be dismissed.
I understand that the Director of the Federation of Property said this will set a national precedent on Enabling Developments. This should not be allowed to happen across Scotland and the planning rule-book ripped up.
There are very many undisputed material reasons why the development should not go ahead and the enabling case put forward is not justified. In order to protect both the historic buildings and their setting and the green space of the wonderful Edinburgh site, for future generations to enjoy, I would ask that you call this application in for public scrutiny.”