Controversial plans for more Edinburgh student accommodation to be decided by Scottish Government

A decision on controversial plans for new student accommodation beside the Union Canal has been taken out of the hands of councillors and will now be made by the Scottish Government.

The proposals for a 74-bed development in Lower Gilmore Place, Fountainbridge, were due to be considered at a special hearing by the council’s development control sub-committee, but Glencairn Properties, the company behind the scheme, has now short-circuited the process by going to appeal straight away.

Officials had recommended the plans – submitted to the council in July 2020 – should be approved at a meeting of the sub-committee in November, but a decision was deferred – a delay Glencairn claim was unreasonable and unjustified, prompting their appeal.

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Residents object to new student flats next to the Union Canal in Edinburgh

Residents are objecting to the proposals, claiming there is already an over-supply of student accommodation in the area, and they say they are unhappy the decision will now be taken by people with no direct knowledge of the neighbourhood.

Ishbel McFarlane, of the Gilmore Place Lochrin Residents Association, said: "At the committee they didn’t have a copy of the residents association or Tollcross community council submissions. That’s partly why there was going to be a hearing, because the council wanted to hear what the local people said. There were 83 objections and only one letter of support – why would they not want to look at it in more detail?

“Now the council is not getting a chance even to ask the developer what he is doing, far less allowing us to make a presentation to the council. It’s just being completely swept away from under us and once again it’s out to an external third party who will be parachuted in.

“The developer obviously thinks he has a better chance with the reporter than he does with the council.”

Glencairn Properties had permission for residential development on the site but changed the proposal to student accommodation

This will be the third appeal over the site in four years. A plan for offices and flats was rejected on appeal in 2018, then last year Glencairn won an appeal for a four-storey block of 20 flats. But the company switched the proposal to student accommodation, saying the residential scheme did not stack up financially.

Glencairn say the student accommodation is almost identical in scale, massing, footprint and design to the flats proposal for which they won permission.

Tollcross community council has objected to the plans, saying there are already 6,500 student beds in 33 developments within 15 minutes walk of the site.

Its submission notes: “This locality has seen more than one extra student residence per year for quite some time.”

Council policy sets a limit of 50 per cent on the concentration of student accommodation in an area, but there is no definition of how big that area should be.

Glencairn says if council wards are used the proposed development would bring the concentration to 22 per cent in Craiglockhart/Fountainbridge or 36 per cent in City Centre – the site sits on the border of the two wards.

And they say if it was measured within the relevant, much smaller “data zone” the concentration would still only be 40 per cent.

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