30 January 2014

What makes a liveable city liveable? (with added meditations on planning and community councils)

Tomorrow, the Licensing Committee of the Council will decide whether or not to issue a license for 'On the roll' - as can be seen here it is a German hotdog stand.  They have this stand often on George Square, and I think also sometimes on North Bridge, but they have applied for a license also on Colinton Road, in South Edinburgh, outside Napier University (I'll try to add some pictures later).

This issue came to my first meeting of the Merchiston Community Council, and to my surprise the only comment was negative, as some residents had communicated to the Chair that they were opposed.  Unfortunately, we weren't told why they were opposed, so I can't speak to that.

I then spoke in support.  The stand above sits near my office.  It is quiet and inoffensive. I have never seen litter arising from it, nor any noise.  It creates jobs, and provides a service.

In the immediate vicinity of Colinton Road, there is a Tesco and a Costa coffee.  If I were a student at Napier, I'd be delighted to have somewhere to buy lunch that wasn't a faceless chain, but rather a small, friendly local business.

But presumably the residents of the area are concerned that it will affect their property values or their quality of life.  Which raises an interesting question - what is it that brings quality of life in a city?  I would suggest that street food was a quality of a good city, not a detriment.  It's certainly been one of the hot food trends (npi) in recent years. It's also not as if that area was entirely residential, with a joiners, a chiropracter, and various other shops along the top of the road.

But more than that, Colinton Road on which they propose to have this stand, is at present a very unpleasant canyon that vehicles bomb recklessly through.  I travel through here regularly - often twice a day - on foot or by bike,  and the overwhelming feeling while on foot is of vulnerability as I have stone walls on one side and vehicles barging through on the other.  It is a hostile bit of space that functions more as a 'road' than a 'street' - with all the connotations of throughput and traffic-management that that conveys.

My worry is that Community Councils and local residents get little say over what shops open in the commercially zoned areas, and especially not when local shops are bought out by big chains -- the Costa coffee used to be a bathroom and plumbing sales room. The recent Caltongate saga is on another scale, but also relevant. So it becomes very tempting to use the system to refuse those applications that are reachable, to exercise the few muscles left to us.  But in this case, I'm not convinced we would be improving the liveability of our city, and we would certainly be harming a small business, whose viablity we ought to  support.

EDIT:  I've now learned that the Community Council is no longer objecting.  The original application did not mention opening hours.  A limited range of hours has now been agreed, and the MCC is not going to further challenge this application. I gather there is still opposition from residents though.

29 January 2014

It's not dead yet....

Today's soundtrack has been 'we shall overcome' and many other great protest ballads that I, and many others, learned from Pete Seeger. These were the soundtrack of my childhood - the songs we sang on car trips and in the canoe. To this day my mother can't serve a plate full of yellow and green vegetables without risking a chorus of 'green and yaller, greeeen and yaller, mother be quick, I'm going to be sick....  

These good memories of someone who refused to give up ought to be steeling me for a good fight.  But instead I am disheartened.  From the sublime to the ridiculous - the nice way code refuses to die (this has also been running through my head today)

You will remember that this absurd pr campaign generated a number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Association.   I was aware of complaints that worried that the campaign itself endangered cyclists. I personally objected to the offensive imagery in one advert in my Sunday paper. But my complaint, along with many others was not upheld. Here is part of their ruling "While Council acknowledged that some readers may have found the middle finger gesture offensive, they considered that the ad was intended to be a light-hearted and humorous approach towards an important public health message."

I was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised.  I presume that they err on the side of free speech and light tough regulation. 

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that a complaint had been upheld. Apparently this ad - the one with the horse, which although foolish had the positive merit of advising drivers to not pass cyclists too closely - "breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility), 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence)."  and "must not be broadcast again in its current form.".  

A success you might think?  Well no.  The ASA, in their wisdom, thought that the ad was irresponsible because the cyclist wasn't in the gutter, and wasn't wearing a helmet.  In future, Cycling Scotland has been told "ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in the most suitable cycling position."  Regardless of the fact that Cycling Scotland - who train the trainers -  might be considered to know something about road positioning, and passing distances.  

The implications for future campaigns are hard to assess. At the very least the ASA has shown themselves to be equally ignorant* as many of the drivers I encounter on the streets.  At worst, their attempt to 'apply' the Highway Code shows the limitations of that document. 

But there's a lot of us out there upset about this and we'll not be beaten, we'll stick together, we shall overcome. 

*Yes, that's harsh. but even my 7 y.o. knows better!

27 January 2014

Making sense of cyclists 'shocking' behaviour

@EDIworstdrivers has been an excellent addition to Edinburgh's social media scene over the past year or so.  On twitter and facebook, the account attempts to keep tabs on dodgy drivers.  Much of the time it is just pictures of people who either don't know how to park, or can't be bothered parking correctly.

But every so often, they have a go at cyclists.  And while I am happy to see dangerous or illegal cyclists being brought to book, the account is often very revealing of how drivers just don't get cyclists. This came up in an earlier post about shared space. And lately they had a go at cyclists riding the wrong way down a one-way street.  The street in question is the east end of Fountainbridge - towards the bottom of the picture below - in yellow - the one way stretch is 200 feet long.

I am by no means condoning cyclists doing this. It's stupid and illegal.  But there is a logic to their madness.

First - the council has a policy of introducing contra-flows on one-way streets, but has not done so.

Second - it's not actually as dangerous as it looks.  Because of the wide pedestrian build-out, most of what they are riding up is the hatched area shown below.

And of course, that hatched zone also shows where a contraflow lane could go (or perhaps, where the parking could go if the contraflow was put in with a nice segregated lane against the pavement).

Third, and most importantly, not only is the alternative route massively inconvenient, it is also bloody scary. In fact, it's so bad that that cyclestreets tells people to get off and walk rather than go all the way around, .

To get around to Earl Grey Street legally (and without walking), you have to get into the middle of the ASZ or change lanes while riding up the middle of Semple Street, which has a terrible surface, and jostle with the buses to get into the right spot in the ASZ at the other end.  Then, you again have to jostle with vehicles on the four lanes of Morrison Street to get into one of the two right turn lanes - except that it is impossible to see the lane markings - and then get out onto Earl Grey street which is six lanes wide at this point.

So, all that for 200 feet (60 metres) against traffic?  Again, I'm not saying I'd ever do it, but I do understand why it makes sense to some.

What I don't understand is why it doesn't make sense to the Council to introduce contra-flows, as promised.

Crossing not in use?!

This pedestrian crossing, near where I stay, has been coned off, with signs up saying 'crossing not in use'.  Of course, it is still in use, because people still need to cross the road. It's on a school route, beside well-used bus stops, next to a popular corner shop, and adjacent to sheltered accommodation.

But it's been 'closed' because of roadworks on the other side of the roundabout.

So, for the 2-3 weeks that this crossing is 'not in use' what exactly are people supposed to do?

As you might expect, confusion reigns.  The first night I came through the roadworks on my bike, I don't think the cones were in place.  As I came towards the crossing, I could see a bike in front of me stopping for a pedestrian, but the car beside him cruised on through.  I stopped too, but the car beside me kept going.  And then, another bike behind me stopped too. We all looked at each other in bafflement as a third car went through.  Then finally the pedestrians were able to cross.  Maybe the drivers saw some signs that none of the pedestrians or cyclists noticed, but I don't think so.

The only other time that I regularly see such complete ignorance of the crossing is when it has snowed or is raining hard enough to obscure the zebra. Of course, the belisha beacons are still going, but somehow drivers get this idea that they can ignore stuff if the conditions are bad enough - and I think they've made a similar calculation now too -- if they've had to wait for the light to change, then they're somehow entitled to blast through the crossing.

So, obviously, on some level the traffic engineers are trying to accommodate such attitudes.  The signs are only visible to pedestrians, and the beacons are still light (in contravention of official guidance on how to close a crossing).

But that's all right, because if someone does get hit, they can say 'but they shouldn't have tried to cross'.

It's this sort of decision-making that makes me want to do more about pedestrians and walking in Edinburgh.  So, on  11 February, I'll be going along to Living Streets to discuss their Future Priorities and AGm for Edinburgh,. 1730-1930, Thorn House, 5 Rose Street .  Follow the link for more info and to let them know you'll be coming too.

Hope to see some of you there.

18 January 2014

Getting to Jack Brown's

We have three regular events on Saturday mornings: the farmer's market, football practice, and a trip to the optometrist.  The first two happen every Saturday, without fail, but the third - visiting the optometrists, is sadly nearly as regular.

We go to Jack Brown's, which was the only optometrist in town that had frames to fit the then sixteen-month daughter when the Eye Pavilion sent us out with a prescription.  We now all go there; they're lovely people with an excellent service. Luckily, it's also very central, located at the east end of Edinburgh's main shopping area on Elder Street, just off York Place, where the new tram-line will terminate.

But - no surprises to regular readers - it's nerve-wracking to get to by bike.  The proposed new bi-directional bike lane on George Street, which is supposed to solve problems of cycling in the city centre will deposit us about 400 metres away, but those 400 metres are composed of either a series of  right turns across busy streets including tram tracks, and a section of 'shared use' pavement cycling on an already too narrow pavement, or a dismount and brisk walk through a pedestrianised shopping precinct with about 30 intimidating bollards on either end.  

James Craig Walk
Instead today, I decided to try going straight down Princes' Street, which involved leap-frogging buses up and down, while dodging tram tracks, before finally having to dismount and walk up the aptly named James Craig Walk. It's actually only posted as no cycling at the other end, but I was trying not to be intimidating.

So, two of the three possible routes involve either dismounting and walking, or using a pavement that really ought to be restricted to pedestrians.  The third option involves cycling down Queen Street, which despite being marked as a 'quiet route' by cycle streets, is a thoroughly unpleasant 6 lanes of traffic, with added tram tracks to turn across when it becomes York Place.

Depressingly, this is what cycling in our city centre has become - thoroughly unpleasant and often dangerous - and I see no evidence that a '£10 million cycle path'  will in fact provide a “ high quality, family-friendly east-west cycle route ... right through the city centre" nor will it  "make it as easy as possible to cycle in the heart of Edinburgh.”. If it does, I'll be the first to celebrate - along with my friends at Jack Browns, whose business would no doubt be just one of many that would benefit.

16 January 2014

The objection to end all objections

After my rather derivative post yesterday, a friend, who is both local to the area and well-informed, contacted me, and offered to let me post his response here.  Enjoy!

I object to the proposed Craighouse Development (12/04007/FUL) on the following grounds:

  1.  It is contrary to the spatial strategy set out in Strategic Development Plan for the regional core, which directs development towards the four Strategic Development Areas within Edinburgh.
  2. It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan, as the new build proposals would have significant adverse impacts on several A listed buildings, due to their proposed location, height, massing and materials used.  These proposals would have an adverse impact on a highly visible setting, which can be seen from many parts of Edinburgh.
  3.   It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposals do NOT have regard to the need to improve the quality of life in local communities by enhancing the natural and built environment.  The proposals will reduce available open space, negatively impact on a site of architectural and historic value and make the surrounding area less, rather than more, attractive.
  4. It is contrary to policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposed new build elements are not a high quality design and there is no indication that there will be use of sustainable building materials.
  5.   It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 1 which states “Planning permission will not be granted for poor quality or inappropriate design or for proposals that would be damaging to the character or appearance of the area around it, particularly where this has a special importance.”  The new build proposals would be damaging to the character of the surrounding area, which is of special importance (given the presence of A listed buildings and conservation area status) due to their height, massing, location and proposed materials.
  6. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 10 which states that “Proposals for buildings which rise above the building height prevailing generally in the surrounding area will only be permitted where… there would be no adverse impact on important views of landmark buildings, the historic skyline, landscape features in the urban area or the landscape setting of the city, including the Firth of Forth.”  The proposed new build development would have an adverse impact on views to and from Craiglockhart Hill, as the elevated position means the buildings would be highly visible and exceed the height of all other nearby residential buildings.
  7. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local plan policy Env3 as the proposals are detrimental to the appearance and character of several listed buildings.
  8. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env6, as the proposals will have a negative impact on the appearance and character of a conservation area.
  9. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env 11, which states “Planning permission will not be granted for development which would damage or detract from the overall character and appearance of the Areas of Great Landscape Value shown on the Proposals Map, prominent ridges, or other important topographical or landscape features.”.  The proposed development clearly detracts from the character and appearance of an area of great landscape value.
  10. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan Env12, as it has a negative impact on trees within a conservation area which the proposed re-planting proposals do not ameliorate, particularly in the short to medium term as mature trees are being replaced by far smaller plants.
  11. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env15, as it will have a detrimental impact on the flora, fauna and landscape of a local nature reserve.
  12. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env16, as the proposals may have a negative impact on nesting birds, badgers and bats.
  13. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Os 1, as the proposals involve the loss of open space with no significant benefits.

A key argument of the developer is that permission should be granted for the proposed development to secure the future of the listed buildings on the site, e.g. paragraph 4.36 of the developer’s planning statement indicates that “Six of the seven listed buildings on the application site are now on the Buildings at Risk Register and it is therefore essential that their future is safeguarded through the application proposals.”  This is a false argument. 

The buildings only entered the Buildings at Risk Register during June 2012, after the developer took ownership of the site.  It is the developer that has placed these buildings at risk.  It is also worth noting that the buildings are included in the register “due to ongoing vacancy and lack of identified new use”, rather than any fundamental risk to the deterioration of the fabric of the buildings.

While the long term future of the existing listed buildings is dependent on re-development, there is no reason why that future should be dependent on the current poorly thought out proposals.

The developer has also argued that the new build elements of the proposals are required as “enabling development”.  Enabling Development is not defined in Scottish planning policy, however the English Heritage policy is generally used in Scotland – which is:

“Enabling development that would secure the future of a significant place, but contravene other planning policy objectives, should be unacceptable unless:

a it will not materially harm the heritage values of the place or its setting
b it avoids detrimental fragmentation of management of the place
c it will secure the long-term future of the place and, where applicable, its continued use for a sympathetic purpose
d it is necessary to resolve problems arising from the inherent needs of the place, rather than the circumstances of the present owner, or the purchase price paid
e sufficient subsidy is not available from any other source
f it is demonstrated that the amount of enabling development is the minimum necessary to secure the future of the place, and that its form minimises harm to other public interests
g the public benefit of securing the future of the significant place through such enabling development decisively outweighs the disbenefits of breaching other public policies.”
The new build elements of the proposed development are contrary to this policy on several counts:

  1. The new build proposals will harm the heritage value of the site.
  2. The new build proposals exist to increase the profitability of the site for the current owner rather than benefit a site of significant architectural, heritage and landscape value
  3.   The new build proposals are not the minimum level of new development necessary to secure the future of the site.
Developer’s Planning Statement

The developer’s Planning Statement sets out to prove that the proposed development is in accord with the development plan and, where this is not the case, there are material considerations which outweigh the policies and proposals in the development plan. 

Hopefully, the detailed objections above are enough to refute the claims made by the developers that the proposed development complies with the development plan.  The following section questions the heroic assumptions made by the developers with regards material considerations.

Paragraph 25 of the Scottish Planning Policy states that “material considerations should be related to the use and development of land”.  Clearly, the Scottish Government’s 2012-13 Programme for Government and Historic Scotland’s Corporate Plan do not meet this criteria and these document should be disregarded as material considerations.

The policies and proposals set out in the Strategic Development Plan and Edinburgh City Local Plan are already in accordance with the requirements of the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2, the Scottish Planning Policy and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy.  The national policies highlighted by the developers have been effectively incorporated into the development plan policies I have highlighted above and there is nothing new in the points raised under these headings that aren’t already covered in the development plan policies.

The English Heritage policy on enabling development is discussed above, it is clear that the new build elements of the proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development.

The Craiglockhart Hills Conservation Area Character Statement could not be clearer about the importance of the Craighouse site, stating:

“Views to the Hills from Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and Edinburgh Castle are also spectacular, in particular to Easter Craiglockhart Hill on which high quality Victorian buildings are set against a predominantly wooded hill, the woodlands emphasising the visual prominence of the site over the local surrounding area.”
It is clear that the new build development proposals would have a significant detrimental impact on these spectacular views.  The Character Appraisal goes on to stay the following about the Craighouse site:

“The buildings form a homogeneous group round the old mansion, as they are closely related in design, layout and materials. This character has remained largely unchanged since the late 19th century. The conversion of the site by Napier University has maintained the essential historic and architectural character, and conserved and enhanced the surrounding landscape.”
Again, the new build proposals could only have a negative impact on the architectural character of this unique site.

The proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development or enhance the character of the conservation area and cannot be seen to meet the policies set out in PAN71 and PAN65 as claimed by the developer.

In summary:

I object to the proposed Craighouse development for the following reasons:

  1.  It is contrary to Strategic Development Plan Policies.
  2.    It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan Policies
  3. There are no material considerations which indicate that the development should be approved contrary to the numerous development plan policies which require its refusal                                                      

15 January 2014

Protecting Craighouse

Haven't done much blogging recently, but thought it might be worth posting up my letter of objection to the Craighouse developments -- the deadline to complain is tomorrow 16 January!  I was a bit pressed for time, so my letter below is based on a sample letter that the Friends of Craighouse propose on their website, but with some additions of my own.  I did write my first objection myself, but now can't find that text.  sigh. 
I'd encourage everyone concerned about the site - or the principles involved involved.  You can do this either by leaving a comment on the planning portal, or email emma.wilson@edinburgh.gov.uk . 
As a local resident and a Merchiston Community Councillor, I am writing to object in the strongest terms to the proposed new build development at Craighouse campus. 
This area is an important component of the greenspace available to residents in the South Edinburgh area.  It also a highly protected site and development here is contrary to its designation as an Area of Great Landscape Value, Open Space in a Conservation Area, nationally protected setting of Category-A listed buildings, and as a Local Nature Conservation Site. The whole site is a candidate for Special Landscape Area (SLA) in the new Local Plan which is due to be adopted in a few years.  This site is not designated for development in the Edinburgh Local Plan and is indeed contrary to the Edinburgh and Lothians Structure Plan, the Edinburgh City Local Plan, National Planning Policies and local policy documents.  To encourage development here would make a farce of all these statutory and regulatory processes, as well as the city's commitment to sustainable development. 
The new build proposals are out of keeping with the conservation area character, and the adjacent residential areas.  They would also involve a substantial loss of protected woodland and Open Space and amenity. It spoils the setting of the Listed Buildings – which is protected by national policy and spoils views. The 6-7 storey apartment blocks will ruin the spectacular vistas and views in and out of the site,  for which the site is famous, and will also ruin the setting of Category-A listed Old Craig  which is protected by national policy.. The other development sites will ruin the setting of Category-A Listed Buildings, spoil views from Blackford hill and the north and spoil the natural feel through to the Right of Way on what is a loved nature site and protected green site.  My family and I visit this area often, as it is only a few minutes cycle from our front door, yet we can walk and enjoy the unparalleled views of Edinburgh, even when we must get home for lunch or putting a child down for a nap.  This helps keeps us active and healthy, and gives the children much-needed space to run around in. 
The extra cars, traffic and newbuild properties will destroy the natural feel of the site as well as putting an untenable strain on local roads and schools, which are already at capacity.   All new development is contrary to the protections on this site and 7 development areas on this protected site is clearly very excessive. There is no justification for destroying habitat and chopping down over 80 protected trees on a site that is supposed to be a Local Nature Conservation Site, Habitat of European and National Protected Species.  I also have particular concerns about the implications for run off and the paths that parallel Meadowspot. 
While I understand and accept that some development is likely on this site, it must be in keeping with the neighbourhood, the existing protections for the site, and the long term interests of the city as a whole. 
In a historic and widely respected city such as Edinburgh, it cannot be acceptable to overturn so many policies and protections simply because a developer seeks to bully their way through the planning system. This  would create a very unwelcome and worrying precedent for other protected and special sites in the city, and raise real questions about our commitment to ensuring that Edinburgh is developed in a sustainable way and that future generations will enjoy the same quality of life as we do now.