Edinburgh residents in battle to stop office blocks adding extra storeys, invading privacy and threatening city's skyline

A group of city-centre residents say they are in a David-and-Goliath battle to stop office blocks being extended upwards, blocking light, invading privacy and threatening the Capital’s skyline.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 4:55 am

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Flat-owners at Lothian House on Lothian Road are fighting an application by the BBC Pension Trust and CBRE Global Investors to build an extra storey onto Excel House in Semple Street, which backs onto their homes.

The residents fear the proposal signals a trend for developers wanting to build up to create more space.

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The current view from the back of Lothian House
The current view from the back of Lothian House

But they argue their successful objections to a similar application for a neighbouring property in Semple Street should have set a precedent.

Jenny Stevenson, chair of the Lothian House Proprietors Association, said there was strong opposition to the Excel House plans.

"They are proposing to convert their top storey into office space with windows overlooking Lothian House, then add an extra glass storey on top of that, then they want to put plant equipment on top of the new top floor.

"But it will cut the amount of daylight getting to the flats and it means they will be overlooking residents in their own homes in a really intrusive way so people don’t feel comfortable in their own bedrooms and living rooms because they have all these unknown people who can see in.

Lothian House occupies the block from Morrison Street to Fountainbridge Picture: Google Maps

“This sort of urban skywards creep is clearly the way these businesses are going. The principle involved here should be of concern to all residents in Edinburgh

Ms Stevenson said the developers had been given an indication by the council their plans for Excel House would probably be viewed positively.

“That's what really alarmed us because we thought we were successful in fighting it before and that set a precedent.”

In 2018, the council refused planning permission for an additional office floor at a new property at 2 Semple Street, saying its height, design and use of extensive glass at high level were at odds with the characteristics of the area and would harm the setting of the listed building, the extra storey would be “a negative addition to the roof space” and mean loss of daylight and privacy.

Alan Dickson, a Lothian House resident for 20 years, said all the reasons given for that refusal also applied to the current application.

He said: "Excel House has already taken away a lot of the light and the views from the flats at the back of Lothian House. It used to look towards the Pentlands, ten slowly but surely the Pentlands disappeared behind the developments that have happened."

He said guidelines on daylight were that windows should have at least a 27 per cent view of the sky, but if it fell below that a new development could reduce the existing view by 20 per cent. “The issue is can you do that every 10 years, every five years, apply again for another 20 per cent and then another? The whole of skyline in the centre of Edinburgh would disappear as a result of the heightening of the buildings.”

Mr Dickson said Lothian House – 88 individually-owned flats occupying the entire block between Morrison Street and Fountainbridge – was a listed building and had panels by scuptor Pilkington Jackson reflecting the goods brought into and exported from the city when the site was the end of the Union Canal. “The context of the building should not be eroded by the additional height proposed for Excel House.”

Nick Ball, director of Corran Properties, development manager for the project, said: "We believe we have submitted a planning application that is sensitive, appropriate, does respect privacy and is fully compliant with all statutory and local guidance and policy on daylighting, overshadowing, privacy and proximity."

A council spokesperson said the application was currently being assessed. “The applicants applied for pre-application advice and a view was given but this is subject to the statutory planning process.”

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