Edinburgh planning: Ferry Road housing development decided on toss of a coin

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A planning application for more than 250 new homes had to be decided by the toss of a coin after a tied vote by councillors.

Edinburgh's development management sub-committee approved the plans for 256 flats and commercial space on the site of a former data centre at 525 Ferry Road. But they could not agree on how much the developer should be required to contribute towards education infrastructure in the area.

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Committee convener Hal Osler and two other councillors on the 11-strong committee voted to refuse the application by Artisan Real Estate. But the rest of the committee split equally between Tory councillor Joanna Mowat's proposal to follow the recommendations of officials and grant permission with a requirement for a £1 million education contribution, and SNP councillor Neil Gardiner's alternative proposal, granting permission, but with a £3m education contribution required.

The 525 Fery Road development will involve six blocks with a total of 256 flats.The 525 Fery Road development will involve six blocks with a total of 256 flats.
The 525 Fery Road development will involve six blocks with a total of 256 flats.

A second vote was then held between the two options for granting permission, but the three who wanted to refuse the development abstained, leaving the vote still tied four-four. The convener has the option of a casting vote, but since Cllr Osler opposed giving permission she did not want to back either proposal.

In such a situation, the rules are that the decision is made "by lot" or tossing a coin. Committee clerk Jamie Macrae asked Cllr Mowat to choose heads or tails and she chose tails. Someone asked if it was "best of three" but Cllr Mowat, a veteran of the committee, said: "No, its one." And the clerk confirmed: "One and done".

He then tossed the coin and declared: "It's heads, the motion is carried."

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But now Artisan Real Estate has warned the development could be in jeopardy in view of the higher contribution set. David Westwater, the company's Scottish regional director, said: “While we welcome the ‘minded to grant’ decision by councillors for our transformational development at 525 Ferry Road, we now need to consider carefully our next steps following the resolution to increase the education contribution significantly over and above that recommended by planning officers.

“A threefold increase in education contribution to £3 million would challenge the viability of any development – especially at a time when the residential market is still struggling to come to terms with the impact of higher interest rates on mortgages and developers are facing increased build and construction finance costs.

"This decision could delay or put in jeopardy the delivery of this much needed housing in Edinburgh which we had hoped would significantly address the city’s well publicised ‘housing emergency’.”

The recommended £1m education contribution was based on the need for more high school places in the area. The extra £2m added onto the contribution was to help pay for a potential annex to nearby Flora Stevenson Primary School.

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The planned flats will be arranged in six blocks and comprise a mix of 38 one-bedroom, 89 two-bedroom and 64 three-bedroom homes, with a total of 65 affordable units and ground-floor commercial spaces. There were 82 objections to the sheme.

Mr Westwater said: “We have set out an ambitious vision to transform this vacant site into a new residential neighbourhood providing 256 much needed sustainable homes - 65 of which are for affordable housing. There is also provision for flexible commercial space facing on to Ferry Road, creating potential for cafes, shops and shared workspaces.

“This is a significant project providing much-needed new homes and commercial space to a vacant brownfield city centre site. We will continue work closely with the Council whilst maintaining our ongoing commitment to bring investment, excitement and life to this important gateway to Edinburgh’s city centre.”

The council said the practice of deciding a tied vote by lot is allowed by law.


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