The City Council's Development Management Sub-Committee decided to approve this application, more or less ignoring our submissions.
You can watch the committe proceeding on the webcast here:https://edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/774541
We went to the committee and spoke on behalf of the local residents. Here is what we said:
As a member of the Southside Community Council, I am supposed to be representative of the views of the residents of the area. You will have seen from the SCC's submissions on this application, that we are broadly supportive of the building of family housing in the area, and so we do support the aim of using this site to create badly needed homes.
However, there are some aspects of the plans which we think need to change, and would hope that the developer will be able to further modify the plans.
The housing most needed in the area is of the affordable type, so we are pleased to see that there is a good proportion of affordable housing included in these plans, but there are problems with the mix of dwelling sizes, and we do not think the current arrangement is tenure blind as is the stated aim of the developers. We are, though, amateurs in this, and see that Mr Sedgwick of Housing and Homelessness is working on this aspect, so we hope you will take into account what he has to say.
Many of the residents of neighbouring streets have expressed concerns about the impact the mass of the new residential blocks will have on the area. They are too big and too dark. We realise the colour scheme has been chosen to blend with the original office blocks, but we feel that the dark colour makes for an oppressive feel, and maybe if they were lighter in colour, perhaps to match the local sandstone used in the older buildings round about, they would not seem so overpowering. Even so the heights of the residential blocks do seem to be too high, particularly on the north east part of the site, where the ground falls away, and neighbouring houses are at a much lower level.
Many of the local objectors have expressed concern about the impact of all these new homes on local facilities such as education and health. Whereas the Communities and Families response looks at the likely impact on local schools, I see no report from the local Health Board, and wonder what the impact will be on local GP services. Has this been assessed, and are there plans for more GP provision, and has the question of funding it been addressed? I note that there is a report from the Airport - I would have thought a report from the Health Board would be more relevant.
Trees are another aspect of the plans where we have concerns. We note that the development involves the felling of quite a few trees which are described as 'Class B', in other words good trees with nothing wrong with them that under other circumstances would remain and continue making the contribution to the area that mature trees do, capturing carbon, reducing pollution, and making a pleasant visual amenity to the local area, shielding us from views of less attractive things. There is the intention to plant new trees, so in the fullness of time we should have a restored treescape, but in the meantime (50 years or so?) we suffer from the loss of those good trees. It is to be hoped that, if the trees really have to go, the timber will be put to good use, sold to furniture makers and other workers in wood. (Not just burnt or chipped). I am particularly concerned about the view along Holyrood Park Road. I have not seen any visualisation showing what it will look like, but I suspect the new blocks A, B and C, which are quite close to the road will dominate the view. If it were possible to retain the trees that currently stand there it would make a big difference to the way the new development is perceived.
The former Scottish Widows building is to be redeveloped, with a mixture of office accommodation and housing.
To see what they plan go to the planning portal to see their planning application. (Updated 4th April 2023)
The plans were discussed at a meeting of the City Council's Development Management Sub-Committee on Wednsday, 24th May, where they were approved. (See update above)
Here is our comment on the latest plans:
Southside Community Council response to the amendments to 22/04766/FUL
Southside Community Council still object to the current update.
We still do not object to developing the site in principle, and still have had no objections to the plans for the plans for the office building itself. The concerns we have remain with the housing element.
We are disappointed in the decrease of the proportion of affordable housing from 35% to 33% (though when number of bedrooms are counted, rather than just housing units, it is more like 25%, 112 out of 440). We realises this still reaches the *current* affordable housing requirements, but those are meant to be a *minimum*.
Also, we still do not believe this housing is really "tenure blind". It still remains in one separate block, and we are concerned by the statement in the Design Access Statement (part 6) by the "potential for tenure mix due to having 2 stair cores." We are unsure why different tenure mixes would need separate stair cores, given this would seem to be entirely against the idea of being tenure blind, and evokes the phenomena of "poor doors" for affordable housing in developments. We also reiterate our previous belief the affordable housing should be social rented accommodation, given the reference to Mid Market Rent in the document.
While we do note the increase in the number of 3 bedroom units in the affordable building (Block E), the share still remains very heavily slanted towards smaller units. Only two more 3 bedroom flats have been created, and nearly half the units still remain single bedroom. This results in block E having 57 units, while even the larger Block D has only 41, and given the other blocks all weight heavily towards 3 bedroom flats, it would not seem to meet not meet the "more representative mix" expected by the Housing Development Officer or in the Guidance for Affordable housing (May 2021). It also appears to clash with the "Schedule Accommodation - Amended Scheme statutory submission", which lists 51 units for Block E, with 15 3 bedroom flats, and a smaller proportion of 1 bedroom flats. This makes it difficult to determine what the *current* scheme is, though we presume this is 57 used in most of the documents, but it does suggest that a potentially more diverse mix of affordable housing might at least be architecturally possible.
The main concern continues to be the potential impact on the neighbourhood, which we have received direct comment from local residents on. While we welcome the reduction in one story of *most* of the residential blocks, including the ones closest to the existing residential areas, we had suggested a reduction in two stories may have made them more acceptable. Due to the way the land slopes away, even with the removal of one level the block closest to the East Parkside flats will still stand 3 stories higher than the windows of the flats opposite. The updated Daylight Availability report does show the impact on light levels on existing residents will be improved by the changes, but the issue is not totally resolved, and even if the proposal is compliant that does not mean existing residents will not see some reduction in light in the immediate area. Related, the amendment proposals somehow seem to make the light levels for future residents of the new development *worse* than previous designs, and many of the documents of skyline projections for the future flats show that several of the new flats will see significant interruption of sightlines from their neighbouring buildings, particularly on the ground floor flats where the buildings get closer to each other.
The impression on the local area is heightened by the fact that these buildings are closer to the edge of the road than the existing ones they are replacing.
We have also been approached by residents of East Parkside about the proposed boundary between the development and East Parkside. They appreciate the fact that a boundary will remain but there is concern about the proposed access gate. They don't believe it is necessary for access, given the site will remain accessible from within the development, and has never been accessible before. It would also prevent the use of one of their heavily used carpark spaces.
There are also concerns about the way the buildings will fit into the character of the local area. Firstly, the new, taller buildings will dominate some of the other buildings around them, and will be very visible from various viewpoints in a more obtrusive way than the existing office building. The fact the new buildings will be closer to the roads than the existing structures will exacerbate this. We have also had a comment from some local residents that they don't feel the new blocks are in keeping with the character of the others in the area. While they seem to be designed to be visually in keeping with the office building, no other residential buildings in the area will look anything like the dark bronze coloured structures. This will also likely increase the adverse visual impact of the new buildings, which is already significant given the topography of the site. If they were a lighter colour they would likely fit in better with the other residential buildings in the area and also likely reduce the adverse visual impact.
The concerns about the loss of a large number of trees remains. There are several planting projected, but the loss of many mature trees is unfortunate. This is particularly the case given if they remained many of them may have helped reduce the visual impact of the new buildings, shield them from the road. Replacing them with newer trees will mean it may take many years for a similar impact.