Looking back over Lockdown

Thank-you

We wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect over the past months. I think we can all agree that 2020 hasn’t turned out to be the year that we had envisaged. Covid-19 took the world by storm and as a nation we have had to swiftly adapt to a very different environment.

It has been one of our high priorities to continue to deliver a high-quality planning service to the people of Edinburgh. The planning service is a collaborative effort, we rely on public engagement, stakeholder contribution and of course, our customers, agents and, communities we work with on a daily basis. We wanted to take this opportunity to recognise your input in helping us to achieve a continued effective planning service; primarily your patience, your understanding and, your willingness to work with us during these challenging times. Though most of our work stations now look very different, this has not hindered our shared ability to deliver a service that will help to support the economy of our city and, ultimately improve the quality of life for its residents.

Thank you from all of us.

A Service Update

At this stage, we feel it is important to share our story over the past six months, how the service has performed and, the outcome of our efforts.

From April through to the end of September, we received a total of 2104 applications. Over the same period, we have fully assessed 1908 planning applications. Average determination times continue to improve towards exceeding the Scottish national average. Given the circumstances of which we are working in, we are proud of our performance.

As you will be aware, our offices continue to remain closed and so, the past seven months have been an evolving work in progress, putting systems and strategies in place in order to continue to perform as a service. As we continue to develop, we are looking into how to work effectively in this new, remote environment. At present, we are focussing on how we can implement greater efficiencies into our processes to ensure that we continually improve the service. We are devoted to delivering a service that ensures Edinburgh remains a great city to be enjoyed by all!

Decision making

To further facilitate continued decision making, formal meetings such as the Development Management Sub-Committee, have also had to adapt. Since May, to date, the DM Sub-Committee has met virtually on eleven occasions and worked on through their summer recess period to do so. Committee members embraced a new way of working and consequently, have made 82 decisions over the period which have included several major applications such as, the Wave Garden at the former Craigpark Quarry site.

Once again, we are proud to highlight that as a service, we have been doing our very best to maintain an effective planning service.

Lessons moving forward

Moving forward, we are keen to embrace this new way of working. Given the unlikely return to the ‘old way of working’, we are looking forward to being able to continue to deliver the planning service in collaboration with you.

Reflecting over these past months we have uncovered some new challenges and, lessons have been learned. As a result of Covid-19, three key lessons we have encountered which we now realise have a significant impact on the continued operation of the service:

• Rapid change and adaptation were required in response to lockdown. This ignited a shift in the attitudes towards change in the service. We used to be relatively slow to change established ways of working however, seven months on, change through trialling and embracing innovative ways of delivering an effective service is now our focus.

• We recognise the service would not have been able to continue to operate without embracing new digital ways of working. Internally, we now have a team continually investigating and implementing new digital platforms to help deliver an efficient service.

• Consideration for the well-being of our staff, our consultees, our customers and, our communities. Our appreciation for well-being has adapted as lockdown measures encourage us all to work from home. The Planning Authority’s top priority is well-being and we are dedicated to implementing measures, through our newly established well-being team, to ensure we do what we can to protect our health well-being.

For your information

There have been changes to the Authority’s Scheme of Delegation.

The Scheme of Delegation to Officers sets out the powers delegated by the City of Edinburgh Council to officers, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and under emergency provisions, the Council’s Leadership Advisory Panel agreed temporary amendments to the Scheme of Delegation on 31 March 2020. These temporary amendments expired on 1 September 2020 and the new Scheme of Delegation comes into force on 1 November 2020.

To conclude

In conclusion, once again we thank-you for your co-operation during this period. None of the achievements mentioned above would have been possible without everyone’s input and willingness to ‘make it work’. We look forward to continuing to work with you in this ‘new normal’ and, striving to deliver an excellent planning service.

Thank you.

Edinburgh – a natural capital

Every three years, all public bodies in Scotland report to the Scottish Government on how they’re meeting the legal requirement to further the conservation of biodiversity.  Our report sets out how we’ve looked after our valuable natural environment and worked with partner organisations to improve our green and blue spaces for nature.

Examples of the type of work include:

  • policy work to incorporate the natural environment in the Edinburgh Adapts climate change programme
  • site management changes across Council-owned parks to increase natural areas and meadows
  • community projects such as food growing projects, which have wider health and social benefits as well as increasing biodiversity
  • education, communication and professional in-house training are other related activities to highlight the importance of protecting and improving biodiversity.

Working with the Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership, the Council also supports work to look after some of our rarer species and habitats.

The report and the Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-18 are also available on our website.

Great Green Roof! City centre rooftop safari filmed at Council HQ

In common with several city centre buildings, the Council HQ at Waverley Court has rooftop gardens.  Green roofs on buildings have many benefits including improving energy efficiency, reducing the urban heat island effect and reducing water run off in the built environment.  They can also be a really good habitat for wildlife.

In recent years the grass areas on the Waverley Court roof have been changed into wildflower meadows to make them more attractive to people and pollinating insects.  Back on a sunny August day, Anthony McCluskey from Butterfly Conservation Scotland ran a butterfly and bumblebee safari to give staff a lunch break with a difference!  It was a lovely sunny day and you can watch some footage of the meadow and safari below.

Open Space 2021: Edinburgh’s Living Landscape

Ian Mackenzie from Scottish Wildlife Trust gave the second in a series of talks to raise awareness of Open Space 2021, Edinburgh’s new Open Space Strategy. Ian manages the Trust’s Living Landscape programme across Scotland.

The Edinburgh Living Landscape is a unique urban project, involving the Council, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh and GreenSurge.

It aims to create, restore and connect green areas in the city to make attractive and biodiverse landscapes, enjoyed by residents and visitors.  Landscapes will be healthy, nature rich and resilient to climate change.

The Grey to Green shoreline project has been run with local schools to raise awareness of the city’s shoreline biodiversity and threats from climate change. The Square Meter For Butterflies initiative looks to expand the use of green roofs.

Working with local communities, over 70 meadows have been created in Council parks and greenspaces, using a mix of species suited to the city.  Other measures include:

  • reducing how often some areas of grass are cut and allowing natural grassland to thrive;
  • mowing pathways through areas of longer grass so they can still be explored and enjoyed;
  • tree planting and creating woodlands;
  • increasing our use of herbaceous perennial planting; and
  • bulb planting.

Ian showed a map of the city which marked the best places for pollinating insects like bees, flies, moths, butterflies and beetles to thrive. The map will guide the growth of Edinburgh’s network for nature, both in Council parks and in new developments.

You can also get involved through the Pollinator Pledge by making your garden more wildlife friendly or you can suggest new sites for living landscape projects by emailing parks@edinburgh.gov.uk

Here is a short video clip from the talk:

You can also watch Professor Catharine Ward Thompson from the University of Edinburgh speak about why greenspace is good for us.

Open Space 2021: Greenspace and Health talk

To raise awareness of some of the key themes of Open Space 2021, Edinburgh’s new Open Space Strategy, we are holding a series of lunchtime training sessions for staff.

Professor Catharine Ward Thompson from the University of Edinburgh gave us a great overview of her research into why greenspace is good for us.

Catharine is Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University and directs OPENspace – the research centre for inclusive access to outdoor environments.  The University is also one of the Council’s key partners for Edinburgh Living Landscape.

Catharine’s research has featured in the Green Health project for the Scottish Government, which looked at links between green space and stress in deprived urban populations. More recently Mobility, Mood and Place, focused on outdoor access and older people’s quality of life.

Catharine plans to deliver her talk to The Friends of Edinburgh Parks at their annual event later in the year.

The video below is a short clip from the talk.