Objections filed

Get your objections filed too

Wednesday saw the protest at City Chambers where the Save Leith Walk campaign intended to hand in their petition; objecting to the proposed demolition and redevelopment of Stead’s Place.

Getting objections filed from over 10,000 signatories didn’t go quite as-planned. It still worked out well in terms of publicity, giving the press a photo-op allowing them to run more coverage on the campaign.

The story even made The National as the petition jumped up to 12,000 signatories.

At the moment we have been collecting the signatures on a petition to stop the demolition at 106 to 154 Leith Walk. We have 12,200 signatures on the petition collected week after week, March through to August.
Similar processes have taken place across Edinburgh in relation to other threats to treasured buildings.
We feel the policies of the Planning Department do not adequately reflect the wishes of communities in respect to treasured buildings.

Ian Hood Quoted by The National

A few observations

I couldn’t hang around long since I planned to catch a friend performing up the road at 1:15pm. I did overhear a few interesting remarks. Since protesters were assembling at lunchtime quite a few council employees were coming and going.

I overheard one woman ask a colleague what was happening on Leith Walk. The unheard response elicited a deeply disappointed, “You’re joking, I love that place!” The pair were returning from lunch, so I’m sure the topic came up again inside and with a wider circle of colleagues.

Another council employee, taking a smoke break, asked me a little about the protest, planning applications, and objection process. He asked if I’d mind sharing my objections.

Instead, I opted to encourage him to look at saveleithwalk.org. I cribbed heavily from their list in putting together my detailed objection.

Filing it was much less fun. The council’s website didn’t like taking a three-page comment on a planning application. It’s an atrociously designed web portal, which nobody will ever get fired for. Anyone else filing a lengthy objection is better-off doing so by post.

My objections in full

Here’s the full ‘wall of text’ I’ve given the planning committee to wade through. They’re supposed to be the experts, so I’ve left them to match up the numerous points to policy.

Objections to the following planning applications:

18/04332/FUL and 18/04349/CON

On the basis these two applications relate to the same property, are from the same applicant(s), and involving identical plans for the demolition of a building within a conservation area, I believe the Planning Committee should treat the two as one.

Should the Planning Committee chose to treat these as separate applications, then – as the majority of objections are on the proposal first publicised – those people should be contacted seeking confirmation they did, or did not, wish to object to both.

My points upon which I believe a firm rejection of the application(s) should be made are as follows:

1. Failing to retain the existing red sandstone building

From the earliest point at which a proposal to build student accommodation on the site became public the development proposal has included demolition. Those early stages of consultation saw the response to the community’s insistence the building be retained met with a disingenuous response – that the red sandstone frontage would be “retained”.

The feasibility study into retention of the existing building presents a false dilemma: the developer’s wishes – a specific number of student rooms – cannot be met unless the existing building is demolished or seriously compromised in order to build above it; this is pitted against the alternative of an unacceptably high – ten storeys to be exact – structure which meets the developer’s wish-list of commercial objectives.

The 1930s sandstone and marble fronted block is a pre-war structure with a consistent Art-Deco influence throughout the design. The upper storey leaded windows are the most-obvious expression of this influence and similar to the design seen in the first floor of the Methodist Central Hall on Great Junction Street – one of the few other red sandstone buildings in Leith.

With good reason, the building is within a conservation area. It contributes positively to the character of Leith Walk. Whilst not currently listed, it is of sufficient architectural import to merit retention.

Further attempts to justify demolition are readily visible throughout the language used to describe the existing structure. “Dilapidated” appears several times in submitted documents. However, the state of the building – and number of tenants – is the responsibility of its owners. New leases have been unavailable for a considerable time, existing tenants were refused renewals – even when suggested on a month-by-month basis – and the boarding up of the unleased frontage all contribute to what appears an orchestrated effort to make the building appear derelict.

The building is structurally sound; it is located within a conservation area; the grounds for demolition appear arrived at by placing the horse in front of the cart; no good-faith effort to ensure the building’s continued use – despite its obvious utility to local businesses – appears to have been made. Nor has a competent case been made that the benefit to the public is best-served through demolition.

Thus, I believe the planning committee are obliged to reject this application.

2. Inappropriate design proposal

Given the frontage of the proposed development intrudes into the conservation area, there are multiple points upon which the proposed design fails to meet the requirements to merit planning permission.

The replacement is a poor pastiche of the various architectural styles evident along Leith Walk. This includes the suggestion the red sandstone frontage might be “retained” – when this actually means using red sandstone in part of the new construction. The overall design of the proposed development thus becomes a messy melange of architectural styles; hastily assembled on top of modern low-cost construction techniques.

Construction techniques which – due to likelihood of damaging the existing building – form part of the justification for demolition, and the proposal’s failure to retain the existing structure.

The proposal is for a monolithic structure. One where six storeys are compressed into a height constraint which sees classical tenemented buildings on Leith Walk only provide four storeys. This compounds the architectural mismatch with existing structures, highlighting the structure as a poor modern pastiche, designed based on economics before aesthetic.

Whilst unmentioned in the development proposal the site is visible from Calton Hill, within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. This image shows the site, and the painfully incongruous nature of existing student accommodation further up Leith Walk.

The proposed development will dominate the lower area of Leith Walk, standing out as an incongruous structure which is visible from miles away.

Given the proposal’s looming elevation, the frontage onto Leith Walk removes a welcome break in the height of structures along the road. Its construction will ‘hem in’ the road, depriving those on it of light. The dramatically less-hospitable feeling during the winter months will be exacerbated by the continuous line of buildings acting as a wind tunnel.

Thus, I believe the planning application should be rejected based on the proposal being an inappropriate design for the area.

3. Inappropriate usage/mix of space in development proposal

The primary objective of this development is to provide in excess of 500 student flats. However as has been made quite clear the intent of the University – who propose to lease the flats and hotel – is to use the accommodation for postgraduate students.

This is against the basic principles of concessions within planning legislation regarding purpose-built student accommodation. Such is intended for undergraduates living away from home for the first time; not for those who have already – at the very least – completed an ordinary degree.

This change in ‘target market’ for the accommodation also calls into question other aspects of the design – particularly the paucity of parking when proposing 500 flats for people in a demographic with at least 50% car ownership.

However, and of more import, the site of the proposed development is nowhere near any of the city’s main campus sites. Instead, it is sufficiently far from campuses and the city centre to require a development of its size have at least 50% of net floor area consist of residential accommodation.

Whilst some disingenuous debate regarding what may constitute net floor area could be undertaken, the planning statement from the developers openly admits to breaching this requirement in claiming 60% of the development is student accommodation.

An impartial assessment of the design proposal is likely to conclude the proportion of residential accommodation is closer to 25%, thus not even half of that required by planning rules.

On this basis, I believe the planning committee are obliged to reject this application.

Nobody’s obliged to waffle as much as I have, the two planning applications may be found here and here. Object to both if you support the campaign.


Where's the gunpowder? It's for a vintage flash, ... Honest!

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