At our meeting on 5 December, the Planning Committee agreed new guidance for Tollcross which will guide the type of uses that will be supported in the main shopping area. As well as shops, we will support other complementary uses such as estate agents, cafes or restaurants in most parts of the town centre. Although we still want a strong retail offer, by being open to other uses that attract people to the area we hope to enhance the vitality and vibrancy of Tollcross.
The Council is committed to ensuring that our town centres serve those who live, work, visit and shop and will continue to thrive in the future. We now plan to look closely at all the other town centres in a similar way over the next couple of years.
Guidance to support the development of ‘The Edinburgh Bioquarter’ on land next to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was also agreed by the Committee. The aim is that the area will become a top 10 global centre of excellence for life sciences with the potential to create a significant number of jobs. The guidance sets out an exciting vision for the creation of a mixed use, urban quarter which protects and enhances the landscape setting of the city. Consultation on the detailed draft masterplan for the area will take place over the coming months.
The Committee also agreed revised guidance on adverts including the use of digital advertising. This is an emerging issue with media companies keen to make adverts time specific and able to be frequently changed and managed remotely. However, it is important that digital advertising does not have an adverse impact on public safety or the amenity of nearby residents or special places such as the World Heritage Site. You can read the all the Planning Committee reports in full online.
As a Planning service much of our time is taken up giving advice on proposed development prior to applications being submitted. We also recognise that the pre-application stage is important to see what issues are likely to arise. To help manage how we deal with major planning applications we have been using processing agreements and the pre-application stage is one part of this process. Having pre-application discussions gives us a better understanding of proposals early on and allows us, developers and applicants to engage other Council services to get a view of proposed developments. This provides greater certainty to developers and applicants, and allows us to make the best use of staff time and improve the service we offer.
To help inform our proposed approach to pre-application advice we held workshops with architects, developers and planning agents to get a better understanding of key issues. Following this, we consulted on the introduction of charges for different levels of pre-application advice whilst still offering basic planning advice at no charge. As always, we recommend that people read the relevant planning policies and guidance prior to seeking advice from us.
The consultation survey has now closed and we will report the findings to Planning Committee later this year.
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.
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!