Martin Hannan: Overview of city planning is vital

Have your say

IT appears the saga of the hotel plan for the Royal High School will carry on as the developers will almost certainly appeal against the decision of the council last week.

I have always thought this mess would end up in the courts, not least because Duddingston House Properties (DHP) was granted preferred bidder status years ago and was clearly working to criteria set out by the council.

Somewhere along the line the wires got crossed, and I have been told by impeccable sources that if DHP had stuck to the original £35m “Arts Hotel” concept then it would have been successful in gaining planning permission from the council.

Back in 2010 when DHP’s original plan was chosen as the successful entry from a total of 50 proposals, even Edinburgh World Heritage welcomed them. It was so long ago that the leader of the council was still Jenny Dawe – remember her? And yes, we’ll be hearing a lot more about Dawe during the course of the trams inquiry.

Let me remind you what she said back then: “Arts hotels have proved themselves to be extremely popular in major cities around the world and this development will bring much-needed additional hotel capacity to the city while complementing Edinburgh’s unique cultural offering.

“I very much look forward to seeing the proposed designs, which will allow this wonderful building to be brought respectfully into the 21st century.”

The problem for DHP was they eventually submitted a different plan which included the two massive extensions resembling Aztec pyramids. Who told them that was a good idea? They were in constant touch with the council, so who gave DHP a nod and a wink that a grossly disproportionate development would be okay?

I have always said on a point of principle that the former Royal High School building should be for public use, not private profit, so I think it is incumbent on DHP to come back with a plan that allows far greater public useage of the building – an arts hotel, perhaps? – or else butt out and let the St Mary’s Music School plan go forward.

What the whole saga points to is a total lack of long-term vision on the part of the planners and economic development people at the council, and chiefly on the part of our council leadership. Where is the vision for Edinburgh’s future? How do they see the city going forward? What are they going to do to achieve the kind of future that Edinburgh deserves and needs.

This city is growing fast, so what are the parameters that developers can work to? Where are the necessary houses and offices going to go – the city is all but out of Grade A office space, which is a disgrace, frankly.

No one, but no one, seems to have an overarching view of the future development of Edinburgh. Instead we get piecemeal planning decisions or none at all so that the Scottish Government has to set in.

Councillors should be making policies for the long-term future of every aspect of developing this city, but at the moment they are just firefighting, squabbling among themselves as they avoid their responsibilities.

No-one appears to be looking to the horizon, far less beyond it. By the 2017 elections, every party must have a vision.

Find cash to save unique gallery

The forthcoming closure of the Gallery on the Corner in the New Town is deeply disturbing. It is the only gallery in the country dedicated to promoting the art of people on the autistic spectrum or who have a physical or mental health problem or are from a disadvantaged background – their work has been fascinating.

The gallery had run for more than five years until Autism Ventures Scotland decided to close it – I am told they were given little choice by parent charity, Liverpool-based Autism Initiatives.

Lack of money is the problem, so can someone out there explain why Lottery cash or some other form of funding cannot be used to maintain an exceptional facility for exceptional people?

Swinney got priorities right

As an SNP member, I get very angry when I read councillors across the country blame the Scottish Government for the latest round of budget cuts when they are very clearly the result of swingeing cuts by the UK government.

The reduction of 3.5 per cent in funding for local government was decided by Finance Secretary John Swinney, who chose to prioritise the NHS and give an extra £250 million for social care, £55m for the police, plus £88m to preserve teacher numbers while pledging £70m to continue the council tax freeze.

Those are the correct priorities, and councils better accept that.

Ignore scammers

If you get a call from a telephone number 0843 980 0142, do not answer it. They are a bunch of cretinous anonymous scammers who will plague you.

Experts in their field

Regular readers will know that I like to give a recommendation whenever I think it’s worth it. So I have no hesitation in tipping the Field Grill House in Stockbridge as a quite excellent restaurant.

It serves food of the highest calibre, has a decent wine list and is good value for money. Can’t say better than that.