Good news! At last night’s Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning we were successful in receiving two commendations. The new student accommodation at Sugarhouse Close in the Old Town was commended in the ‘Quality Development on the Ground’ category and the judges commented that this process showed how planning can operate to deliver a development which supports a masterplanned approach to deliver a well-considered ‘space to live’ for students. The planning team and the architects went to great efforts to ensure this new development both respected the sensitivities of this location within the World Heritage Site whilst providing a series of modern buildings and new spaces in this context.
Our approach to delivering a quality planning service was recognised through the Award for ‘Quality of Development’ for our use of processing agreements. This is where we put in place an agreement between ourselves and applicants on how we will work together to progress major planning applications. This sees us agree target dates, information required, potential risks and a project plan before the application is submitted. We in turn project manage the process with greater efficiently and certainty for the applicant. Using processing agreements exemplifies our gold standard approach to quality of service and the judges acknowledged that this was a positive step in how we handle major planning applications.
We are about to start a review of our conservation area character appraisals. The appraisals help us, community and amenity groups, householders, developers and others understand what makes a conservation area special, and how change in the area can be managed sensitively.
With some of our current appraisals around 15 years old, changes over time, development pressures, and changing priorities have made a fresh look at the appraisals essential. Feedback has also shown that the format of the appraisals could be improved to make them more user-friendly and focus more on analysis rather than description – emphasising that understanding the area is important. We will be reviewing six conservation areas over the next two years, with the initial priorities being:
The first area to be reviewed will be The Grange. We are working in partnership with the Grange Association to understand the changes that have taken place in the area since the last appraisal and what we can learn from this. At the same time, Architectural Conservation MSc students from the University of Edinburgh are assessing the area’s character and development and will be sharing their results with us over the next few months.
Watch this space – we’ll be seeking views from the community and other stakeholders as the draft Grange appraisal and new format are developed. The more feedback we receive, the better and more fit-for-purpose the new appraisals will be.
The winner of the Stirling Prize for the best building has been announced. Looking at the short list of candidates it made me think of the quality of new development that we see in Edinburgh. The Scottish Parliament was our last building to feature in the competition and this was back in 2005. I often hear people criticise recent developments in Edinburgh and at times I do agree – but our new design guidance sets a challenge for new development to achieve the highest quality of design possible and integrate well with the existing city:
Edinburgh is not a museum — it is a vibrant, living, breathing city and a city that needs to change if it is to meet the needs of the years ahead. We want to have confident and modern developments that sit comfortably alongside some of the oldest buildings in the city, as well as developments in other areas that create their own sense of place.
We know there are many competing factors that influence how a final scheme will look and the type of place that will be created but I want the guidance to be a tool to push developers to go further and think more creatively about their proposals. I want to see developments come forward that become the conservation areas and listed buildings of the future.
It is not just about architecture, creating places that people want to live in is a priority. Higher density developments which create mixed communities with high quality public spaces are something I would like to see more of. I am encouraged by the recent developments at Gracemount which the Planning Committee visited earlier this year. It has also been interesting to see recent proposals come forward that aim to re-interpret a colony style of dwelling. We have recently designated many of the traditional colony areas in the city as conservation areas and I have high hopes that the modern interpretations will prove to be a success.
Earlier this week Jenny Wood a MRes and PhD Urban Studies student from Heriot-Watt University gave us an excellent lunchtime talk on the benefits of increased engagement with children and whether the Scottish planning system is doing enough to create spaces for children. The talk was well attended by planners and included colleagues from other Council services. In Edinburgh we already work with schools and children to prepare plans and projects but it was good to get a better understanding from Jenny as to why this is not only the right thing to do but to understand what the benefits are. The talk has certainly got us thinking about how we can involve children more in developing plans, sharing good practice and ultimately improving the city for everyone.
We also discovered that Jenny has a hidden talent as a fine stand up comedienne. Her routine about Town Planning is certainly worth a watch!
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