All public bodies in Scotland are legally required to look after biodiversity and report on how this is being achieved to Scottish Government. We published a report in December last year on the wide range of activities undertaken to improve biodiversity in Edinburgh.
The complainant made 5 complaints and 1 was upheld. The Ombudsman upheld a complaint that we had misinterpreted guidance from the Scottish Government on the basis that the Planning Committee was not given complete and clear information on why a full transport assessment was not required. The Ombudsman made the point that the interpretation of planning guidance is a matter of professional judgement for the Council but we have to be clear on why and how we are making these judgements. We fully accept this finding and we have written a letter of apology to the complainant. However, the Ombudsman did not call the decision “perverse” as stated in the newspaper.
The adviser to the Ombudsman has said, “it was not possible to say definitely that the submission of a full transport assessment and travel plan would have led to a different conclusion in the determination of the application or whether the decision to accept a transport statement as opposed to a transport assessment was so flawed as to be deemed irrational or perverse, and call the validity of the original consent into questions. This would ultimately be a matter for the courts.”
The decision from the Ombudsman dismissed the other complaints about being too friendly and colluding with a developer. It was recognised that it is the job of planning authorities to engage constructively with developers to increase sustainable economic growth. The Scottish Government encourage us to have pre-application discussions and we are committed to providing this service. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman may publish the decision on their website in due course.
David Leslie, Acting Head of Planning and Building Standards
2014 was a busy year for the Planning and Building Standards service and this is showing no sign of letting up in 2015. A review of the service was completed by the end of October with the refreshed structure now in place and the new teams working with an area focus. We have retained some activities at a city wide level, including development planning (policy), built environment and place making, natural environment, service delivery and data management.
A number of significant applications for the City were handled by the service last year including the Craighouse Campus, the New Waverley proposals now underway at East Market Street and New Street (see photographs), and proposals for the redevelopment of the canal side area at Fountainbridge.
These brought with them a number of challenges but will in time bring benefits such as new homes, public spaces and employment.
The number of online applications is increasing with our 10,000th online application received last year. This upward trend is continuing with online submissions reducing time and costs for both us and our customers.
The Local Development Plan continues to make progress and with over 2500 representations received on the Second Proposed Plan we are working hard to bring this to the stage of its examination this year. The next main issues report for the strategic development plan (SESPlan) is progressing and will be open to consultation later this year.
I’m confident that we can meet these challenges, continue to deliver a high quality service for all our customers and engage a wide range of people in how the city develops. With the Development Management Sub Committees and the Planning Committees due to be webcast in the next few months, there’s every opportunity to hear the discussion and watch the decision making process in action!
The success of the service was recognised with awards for our Edinburgh Design Guidance and commendations for the new developments at Advocate’s Close and Charlotte Square. We also maintained our Customer Service Excellence accreditation.
2015 will bring its own challenges, not least working within a constrained financial position. However, we’re already making progress with major applications for the St. James centre redevelopment, the former Royal High School, Edinburgh Marina, Granton Harbour and a number of housing developments across the city. Whilst these major developments are important to the city and the wider region, we continue to handle large numbers of applications for householder and local developments. All of this reinforces the role the service has in creating great places for people to live, work and visit.
The 100 Years of Planning in Edinburgh exhibition will continue its tour around the city. If you haven’t had a chance to see it it will be at a number of locations across the city until June this year.
At our meeting on 4 December, the Planning Committee approved an Issues Paper on Student Housing. This will be subject to formal consultation and will inform the preparation of revised planning guidance. This will assist with the implementation of policies to manage the location of purpose-built student accommodation in the city.
In addition to this it was agreed that a review of Housing in Multiple Occupation (HMO) would take the form of a joint consultation between Licensing and Planning. Following this agreement, I will be having discussions on how this will be done with the Convener and Vice Convener of the Regulatory Committee in the coming months.
At the same meeting, the committee agreed that, after consultation with the local community, it would not proceed with the designation of the Southfield Estate as a conservation area. While it was accepted that the estate is a good example of 1960s housing design, the accumulation of alterations coupled with a lack of local support for conservation area status meant that enhancement and improvement of the area would be very difficult to achieve. For those reasons the committee agreed not to support the proposal at this time.
The process to review the Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan has commenced with fifty people attending a workshop event in the City Chambers on 12 November to begin the preparation of a new plan. The current action plan runs until the end of 2015.
Members of the Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership (they’re all listed on pages 79-80 of the action plan) and other stakeholders attended the event, which included workshop discussions on the format, timescale, lessons learnt and new priorities for 2016 and beyond.
The outcomes from these discussions will be collated by the Natural Environment team in the Planning and Building Standards service, who will lead on the production of the new plan, and taken forward by the Edinburgh Biodiversity Steering Group. We’ve prepared a short summary of the workshops and if you have any queries please drop us an email at Biodiversity@edinburgh.gov.uk We will be posting more information here on the blog in the coming months and letting you know how to get involved in the preparation and delivery of the new plan.