Are colonies in danger? Study of ten sites to consider new conservation areas

Collins Place in the Stockbridge Colonies in 1902
Collins Place in the Stockbridge Colonies in 1902
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ARCHITECTURAL experts are to consider rolling out a raft of new conservation areas to protect the unique Colony developments in Edinburgh.

A study of the ten sites across the Capital has examined whether current arrangements have resulted in the loss of original features. The findings will be unveiled to the public, who will be asked whether new conservation areas should be established.

Four of the Victorian sites – including the famous Stockbridge Colonies – are listed, and another falls within an existing conservation area.

However, the remaining five are afforded no special protection and could be subject to significant change.

New “permitted development” planning rules introduced earlier this year have removed the need to seek planning permission for a range of measures – including introducing satellite dishes, decking and moderate extensions. The move has sparked concerns that many areas with attractive architecture will be subject to unchecked development.

Experts at Edinburgh City Council found the Colonies have been “subject to changes over the years which has resulted in a degree of loss of original features”, although it said additions had not yet been extensive. In many cases original windows and doors have been replaced and dormers have been fitted onto the upper levels.

Colonies at Stockbridge, Rosebank, Dalry and Pilrig are category B-listed and those in Shandon are protected by the wider conservation area.

However, those at Hawthornbank in Leith, Abbeyhill, Lochend, Leith Links and the “Flower Colonies” in Slateford, are not.

In one case, the Shaw’s Place Colonies in the Pilrig area of Leith are protected but the wider area is not.

Dr Annette O’Carroll from the Leith Community Council and Leith Walk councillor Angela Blacklock have urged planning officials to set up a new conservation area to prevent future developments which may harm the original character of the buildings.

The new permitted development measures were introduced in February and intended to simplify the planning process and encourage development, but Cllr Blacklock said it could lead to “unchecked development” harming the character of the area.

Deputy Lord Provost Deidre Brock, whose Leith Walk constituency includes two of the Colonies, said the public involvement in the study is the most important aspect of the exercise. Residents of all Colony properties will be mailed, along with heritage groups and an exhibition will be displayed with future plans.

She said: “There are both pros and cons to having giving conservation status to an area which is why it’s important there is consultation with the public.

“This study is also an opportunity to publicise the interesting facts and figures about Colonies and highlight their significance in the development of the city so I welcome the attention that’s being paid to these areas.”

A radical experiment in housing

UNIQUE in their character and highly sought-after by buyers today, the Colony developments of Edinburgh originated as a radical experiment in the creation of communities for working-class families.

The city saw a rapid period of industrialisation in the 19th century when severe rural poverty drove 120,000 people into the Capital, doubling its population to 220,000 in just 70 years.

The already overcrowded Old Town – whose tenements were described as “chambers of death” by a local newspaper at the time – swelled in population.

The collapse of tenements on the Royal Mile in November 1861 killed 35 residents and injured a further 100, forcing the authorities to act. The creation of the Colonies gave residents more used to cramped tenements a four-room home.