Edinburgh City Council’s development management sub-committee approved proposals by the Omni Centre to build the one-storey glazed extension onto the south through-corridor – which will shrink a through-route between Leith Street and Greenside Row.
It emerged that when the original planning permission for the Omni Centre was approved in 1999, a condition was attached for the developers to pay £200,000 towards the construction of a bridge between the leisure centre and Calton Hill. The plans never progressed and officials were unable to tell councillors what happened to the funding.
A new specific entrance to the Vue cinema will be built, giving customers easier access to the upstairs of the leisure centre. The extension will absorb the currently vacant units on the lower floor – leading to an increased shop floor space.
Planning convener, Cllr Neil Gardiner, called for the proposals to be turned down due to the quality of design and loss of open space. He said: “This is a tricky one because I don’t think the space currently works that well. I’m concerned about the loss of public space and the creation of this narrow route though. I don’t feel this enhances the existing features and nullifies any chance of them being enhanced.”
The objection was also supported by Cllr Joanna Mowat.
She said: “I think this is a really unimaginative development. It’s not going to make the best use of that space. I think this will sterilise the space.
“The Omni is not a beautiful building and I do think boxing this on the side is a clumsy extension.”
But other councillors called for the plans to be approved by the committee.
Cllr Hal Osler said: “I don’t think there’s a particular issue with this. It’s not used as a thoroughfare – it’s pretty dead at the moment. I think it will be complimentary to the St James Centre. We have waited for 20 years for the bridge and nothing has happened over it. As long as it doesn’t harm the possibility of putting it in, I don’t see the issue with it.”
Cllr Chas Booth claimed the proposals would put off pedestrians and cyclists from using the squeezed route through to Greenside Row. He said: “It narrows the space that’s available to pedestrians and cyclists and for that reason, I don’t think I can support it.”
But John McLellan maintained: “This is beginning to hinge on the bridge that never was. It’s not a street that’s used at all by any large number of people. Whether it would be used in the future as a thoroughfare in the future depends on something that is not before us, which is now something of a mystery.
“As it stands, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t permit something that’s within our policies and which would engage better use of that area. It’s only a first floor extension we are talking about here.”
Councillors voted six to five in favour of approving the application, while the Omni Centre will provide more accessible cycle storage space as part of the refurbishment.