More student accommodation plans for Edinburgh approved on appeal despite residents' objections

Developers have been given the go-ahead for controversial student accommodation beside the Union canal in Fountainbridge despite residents' objections.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 12:30 pm
Student accommodation plans have been given the go-ahead on appeal

Glencairn Properties won an appeal over the proposed 74-bed development in Lower Gilmore Place after claiming council plans for a hearing into the application represented an unjustified delay.

A Scottish Government planning reporter granted planning permission for the scheme and Glencairn say work will start next year so the accommodation is ready for the start of the 2023 academic year.

Residents had objected to the proposal, claiming there was already an over-supply of student accommodation in the area. Tollcross community council said there were 6,500 student beds in 33 developments within 15 minutes walk of the site.

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The planning reporter acknowledged evidence suggesting the concentration of student accommodation in the area was approaching the council’s 50 per cent guideline figure. But he added: “Overall, I conclude that this relatively small development would not result in an over-concentration of student accommodation either in its locality or in the wider area.”

Council planning officials had recommended approval of the plans, submitted in July 2020, and a decision was expected in November but was deferred pending a hearing, which never happened because Glencairn lodged an appeal.

The residents are unhappy that the decision was taken out of councillors’ hands before they had even discussed the application.

Ishbel McFarlane, of the Gilmore Place Lochrin Residents Association, said: “We feel really particularly aggrieved that the planning application was not allowed to be open to scrutiny by our locally elected representatives. Going straight to the Scottish Government appeal process before the council planning committee had had a chance to hold their hearing means that there was no local councillors' input at all into the decision making process.

“The decision to allow the development was therefore taken by some 'random' person parachuted in to overview the planning application – someone who does not know the area, someone who does not know the local communities and someone who is not familiar with the particularities of any area – yet the decision is entirely up to that individual and there is no right of appeal to local communities.”

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said there had been significant community objections to both an initial application, which was for housing, and the one now approved. “They said it was too big for the site and too high.”

She said the council had wanted to take a more strategic approach to student accommodation and spread it throughout the city, but the decision on this application had been taken by the government without council input.

“It undermines the community's ability to make representations to councillors and it undermines the principle that local authorities take decisions on planning applications and then developers get to appeal – it just cuts out that community accountability entirely.”

Glencairn managing director Daryl Teague welcomed the planning reporter's decision. "Now that we have received planning permission we are looking forward to starting work next year to deliver these properties ready for the 2023 academic year. Works will start later this year on the demolition of the existing buildings and preparation of the site ahead of this."

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