New Rose Street ‘superpub’ gets green light

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A GIANT “super-pub” has moved a step closer to opening in the Capital – as council chiefs fought off a bid to limit the number of booze licences it can serve up.

Crunch talks designed to draw up a new policy to clamp down on over-provision of alcohol outlets in parts of the city reached a stalemate yesterday.

Neil Simpson says the super-pub has no place on Rose Street. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

Neil Simpson says the super-pub has no place on Rose Street. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

It came just hours after planners backed a blueprint which would see the historic Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Rose Street transformed into an Irish-themed Waxy O’Connor’s bar, with a capacity for more than 900 drinkers – a move that would see the B-listed building transformed into one of the largest pubs in Edinburgh.

Talks were held over a fresh licensing policy after NHS and police chiefs said that a high number of outlets was leading to poorer health and public disorder.

But they failed to reach a deal after economy leader Councillor Frank Ross waded into the row by circulating a e-mail saying that “restriction on individual choice” would harm efforts to revitalise deprived parts of Edinburgh and attract more tourists to the Capital.

‘Super-pub’ plans win backing

Waxy O'Connor's in Glasgow. Picture: contributed

Waxy O'Connor's in Glasgow. Picture: contributed

By DAVID McCANN and KAREN McCAIN

MOVES to transform a B-listed church into a “super-pub” that would be one of the largest in the Capital have taken a major step forward, despite concerns from residents.

City planners have backed blueprints to convert the historic Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Rose Street into an Irish-themed Waxy O’Connor’s bar with a capacity for more than 900 drinkers.

The masterplan won support from council officials despite a raft of objections – and the city’s own environmental impact assessment which highlights the poor practice of siting “potentially noisy and disturbing premises adjacent to residential properties”.

Owned by Glendola Group, the Waxy O’Connor’s chain has launched a string of successful venues in London, Manchester and Glasgow but faces staunch opposition from Rose Street residents concerned the three-floored venue would “damage the character” of the famous thoroughfare. Local concerns include noise from late-night smokers, daily stock deliveries and nearby properties lying just six metres away.

Architect Neil Simpson, a neighbouring resident, said the colossal pub has “no place on Rose Street”.

He said: “Residents are outraged at the planners’ report which flies in the face of policies that should protect residential amenity. The report proposes to grant the application on the grounds that our new super-pub neighbour will have no impact on the street outside our front doors. This contradicts the council’s own environmental assessment which clearly lists the additional late-night noise, disturbance, on-street activity and antisocial behaviour.”

Politicians have leapt to defend the residents’ case, pointing to the seven existing public houses in the immediate area.

Mark Lazarowicz MP said: “I am concerned at the impact of this plan on the area if it goes ahead.

“Inevitably premises like the one planned here are going to be much busier later in the evening than the chapel is at present.”

Alasdair Rankin, the Capital’s finance convener who represents the city centre, warned about over-provision in the heart of Edinburgh.

He said: “It’s meant to be a mixed use area and arguably if the planning consent is given for this proposal it would lead to it becoming less a mixed area and much more dominated by licensed premises.”

Alex Salussolia, managing director of Glendola, insisted the pub group’s bid was the only “commercially viable” option to preserve the Edwardian chapel, and would provide “significant investment and employment opportunities”.

He said a range of “noise mitigation measures” and management procedures would limit the impact on residents.

The super-pub will be debated at tomorrow’s planning summit, and if approved must still progress through the licensing committee.

The sale of Charlotte Chapel would allow its owners to proceed with a £2.4 million investment in refurbishing its new premises, the former St George’s West Church, in Shandwick Place.

Booze sales crackdown bid fails to measure up

By DANIEL SANDERSON

A BID to launch a major crackdown on sales of alcohol in the Capital appears to have hit the buffers following warnings that it would harm tourism and efforts to revitalise deprived areas.

Health chiefs and police have called for restrictions over the number of new licences granted for pubs and booze retailers in parts of the city, saying a high number of outlets leads to poorer health and disorder.

However, a fraught summit of licensing chiefs at the City Chambers yesterday, where a new statement of licensing policy was set to be agreed, was abandoned with no deal reached as councillors hit a deadlock.

While some licensing board members pointed to evidence that suggested alcohol-related problems cost the city 
£220 million per year and that drink blights entire communities, others expressed fears that deprived parts of the Capital would go without major investment if a presumption against the granting of new licenses was brought in. The city’s licensing forum, which advises the decision-makers, has said that bosses should consider making seven areas of the city, including large swathes of Leith, Dalry and Fountainbridge and Portobello, areas of over-provision, meaning applications to sell booze would be unlikely to be approved.

However, key members of the board – including convener Eric Milligan – appeared to adopt a position that was at odds with the expert group’s stance.

In a further twist, the city’s economy leader, Frank Ross, waded into the row, with an e-mail circulated just before the debate saying a “restriction on individual choice” would be “wrong not only for the citizens of Edinburgh” but the four million visitors who travel to Edinburgh each year “many of whom come from a society where there are no such restrictions”.

He also said a clampdown would hit plans to create a European-style cafe culture on Princes Street and could put hotel operators off moving into Edinburgh, with an additional 600 to 900 rooms needed per year.

The key intervention, as well as the opinions stated by Labour stalwart Councillor Milligan and Cllr Ross’s SNP colleagues Gavin Barrie and Mike Bridgman, are likely to be met with dismay by NHS chiefs, who have been lobbying behind the scenes for several months for the city to take a tough approach.

Cllr Milligan said he was particularly uneasy about Dalry and Fountainbridge, Leith and Portobello being classed as areas of over-provision.

“On Gorgie Road all you see is ‘to let, to let, to let’,” he added. “Convenience stores have a role to play. We need to revitalise these areas, it would be a flat contradiction to the economic position of the council.

“We shouldn’t send out the message that the city is shutting up.”

Previous attempts to block licences on the grounds of over-provision have been defeated in the courts, with even the authority’s own lawyers admitting that fighting supermarket chains was doomed to failure under a previous policy, which covered Grassmarket and Cowgate.

Health and police chiefs had hoped that putting a tougher policy in place would put the council in a stronger position when defending legal challenges. Advice could be obtained from a top licensing QC before the new guidelines are signed off.

The policy will now be discussed at a licensing board meeting next week following the lack of an agreement, but it yesterday appeared unlikely that a uniform position across areas classed by the Edinburgh Drug and Alcohol Partnership as those of over-provision would be adopted.

Cllr Bridgman said: “There is already the perception that we don’t want to issue licences. I’m not saying we do nothing, but we’re talking about extending this to wide corners of the borough. If we put that message out we might as well shut up shop.”

A report produced by the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership as part of the consultation over the new policy said that Edinburgh has more licensed premises per head than the other major Scottish cities.

Data from the Scottish Health Survey reveals that people in the Capital appear to consume more alcohol compared with the wider Lothian and Scottish average.

Health chiefs have cited more than 50 different studies since the year 2000 which have demonstrated a “significant association” between the number of alcohol retailers in a particular area and alcohol-related problems, such as violence, underage drinking, child abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

Labour’s Cllr Cammy Day, who is also the city’s housing leader, has previously expressed his support of extending the council’s policy on over-provision.

He said that while the city centre area should be “top of the list”, all seven areas highlighted by the licensing forum should be looked at.

He also fired a shot at Cllr Ross, a fellow key player in the Labour-SNP coalition, saying: “Alcohol costs £220m and I didn’t see that in the email from the economy convener.”

Green councillor Chas Booth said that each of the seven areas that the board had been urged to consider making areas of over-provision had been shown to have above average on-sales and off-sales outlets, as well as high levels of alcohol-related crime and hospital admissions.

He added: “I think the recommendations we have been given are quite conservative. We have had clear recommendations and seven zones where data suggests there is a significant problem with alcohol. If we try to unpick that the policy will not be based on evidence and less likely to stand up in court.”

The seven areas of the city which the licensing forum has said the board should consider making areas of over-provison are Tollcross, Dalry and Fountainbridge, Southside and Canongate, Old Town and Leith Street, South Leith, Leith Docks and Portobello. A new policy is due to be adopted by the end of the month.