Cockburn Association objects to student village at Bristo Square

The Cockburn Association has slammed the University of Edinburgh’s student village in both Bristo Square and George Square, accusing it of “ignoring the regulatory framework governing the proper use of public space”.
The Cockburn Association has objected to the student village in Bristo Square.The Cockburn Association has objected to the student village in Bristo Square.
The Cockburn Association has objected to the student village in Bristo Square.

The application was lodged with Edinburgh City Council at the end of August for retrospective planning permission after the building went up ahead of the students arriving following lockdown.

The university described it as a “new lightweight timber and steel prefabricated building for use as a student social space for a period of six months”.

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However, The Cockburn Association has now officially objected, publishing the details via social media.

The city heritage watchdog said: “The Cockburn Association objects to the application by the University of Edinburgh for retrospective planning permission for its temporary student village in Bristo Square.

“This structure has been erected, and largely completed, without planning permission.

"This is a flagrant flouting of proper planning procedures. Indeed, we note with growing concern that previous temporary structures erected on Bristo Square, and in nearby George Square, have all been put in place without planning permission. This growing trend of ignoring the regulatory framework governing the proper use of public space cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged and we will proactively resist this trend.”

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However, the watchdog said it understood the pressure on the university as a result of the pandemic.

It continued: “We are sympathetic to the difficulties and constraints placed on the University of Edinburgh and its academic community by the present Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is our view that given the time required to design and commission the present structure ample time would have been available to submit a detailed planning application.”

The Cockburn Association also questioned whether the Bristo Square building even adhered to current coronavirus guidelines.

It said: “The lack of clarity and detail in the planning application is surprising given the very specific and special circumstances which have led to the construction of this building. If this structure is to be used for the purpose of general hospitality this would seem to be at odds with current Covid-19 guidelines. Clarity and detail relating to its proposed use is required.”

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The heritage watchdog also accused the university of depriving the people of the city of an open space at a time of need.

It added: “A large area of public open space is now unavailable for use by the general public of Edinburgh, for an unspecified time period, just when such spaces are at a premium for recreation and exercise during the present pandemic. It is simply unacceptable for the University of Edinburgh to potentially disadvantage the health and well-being of the greater Edinburgh community in this way.”

It also called for the building to be taken down: “It is our view that if this structure is not in compliance with current Covid-19 guidelines, and is likely to be unusable for the foreseeable future, it should be dismantled.”

A university spokesperson said: “A planning application has been submitted for the venues to provide extra space for our students on a temporary basis, as capacity in buildings has been greatly reduced as a result of the pandemic.

"This is part of a range of measures to safeguard the wellbeing of students, staff and the local community.”