Call to send ribbon hotel back to drawing board

Sarah Boyack fears the ribbon hotel plan threatens Edinburgh's World Heritage Site status
Sarah Boyack fears the ribbon hotel plan threatens Edinburgh's World Heritage Site status
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A LEADING MSP is spearheading a campaign urging the Scottish Government to overrule councillors who granted planning permission to the “ribbon” hotel at the centre of the St James development.

Lothians Labour member Sarah Boyack wants ministers to “call in” the decision amid concerns the landmark scheme could have a detrimental impact on the skyline.

But the Evening News can reveal attempts to get the government to intervene are set to prove fruitless.

The striking centrepiece was given the go-ahead by councillors at a planning meeting earlier this month, with building work set to begin as early as next year.

An online petition urging government ministers to overrule the move has since attracted more than 760 signatures.

In her letter to the Scottish Government, Ms Boyack insisted it was “clearly noted by officials” that going ahead with the proposals would have a “detrimental impact” on Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site status.

Speaking to the Evening News, she said: “If it is the case that the application cannot now be called in by the Scottish Government then it is a big disappointment.

“An important part of what makes Edinburgh so special internationally and such a draw to so many people is our skyline and the setting of our historic buildings.

“The advice of council officials and the World Heritage Trust in relation to Edinburgh’s outstanding universal value has not been followed and isn’t given lightly.

“Previous applications have seen the council, developers and the World Heritage Trust collaborating for the benefit of the whole city. I am very concerned about whether this sets a precedent for future decisions.”

But it is understood ministers are powerless to halt planning applications after they have been approved by local authorities. They can only ask councillors to explain refusals.

If ministers want to halt an application they would normally need to issue a “Section 46” direction well in advance of a final decision being made, forcing local authorities to refer to ministers at the last hurdle if they are “minded to grant” the proposals.

But in the case of the ribbon hotel, no such direction was issued.

The hotel is considered a crucial part of the wider success of the £850 million St James revamp as developers look to attract a five-star operator and top retailers to neighbouring shop units.

The entire complex is expected to bring in £25m to the city’s economy every year, with the 210-bed hotel at the centre topped by three levels of restaurants and bars and a public roof terrace offering panoramic views across the city.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ms Boyack’s letter conveys her understanding that a decision notice had not yet been issued.

“However as part of our consideration of her request, we have consulted the City of Edinburgh Council planning website which indicates that a decision notice approving the application was issued on August 14, 2015.

“In these circumstances Scottish ministers have no further locus to intervene in the application nor can they comment on the planning authority’s handling of the case.”

TH Real Estate, which is behind the ribbon hotel plans, declined to comment.