Why Edinburgh’s planning system is not fit for purpose – Kevin Buckle

The case of the IMPACT centre is just the latest in a series of issues calling the council into question, writes Kevin Buckle

Saturday, 14th December 2019, 11:29 am
An artist impression of the IMPACT centre's concert hall

News that plans for the new concert hall the IMPACT centre were to go on hold because of a legal challenge to the building being granted planning permission by Edinburgh Council reinforced a growing feeling, that despite endless consultations and claims of transparency, projects in favour with the council go ahead –riding roughshod over considerations applied to others.

Eyebrows were raised by some when the IMPACT centre was very much nodded through despite clear issues and it went beyond the council when the heritage pressure groups you would expect to look closely at a project like this were also very quiet.

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The decision to put plans on hold follows hot on the heels of the Christmas market debacle, with planning permission not obtained at all before going ahead.

Much as I support many of the ideas in the City Centre Transformation Plan that too is being pushed in an evangelical way by the council that doesn’t reflect wider public opinion.

Of course soon we should know whether the Old Royal High School will become a six-star hotel and that highlights what happens when the council changes its mind as initially they wanted a hotel, then narrowly decided against it and then finally voted unanimously against it.

It is very difficult to accept that planning committees are fit for purpose when after initially losing eight votes to seven a less controversial plan doesn’t get a single vote. The only explanation is that decisions are not being made based on facts but on more personal beliefs.

The biggest problem, of course, is that whatever the issue most people won’t care, even when maybe they should, so all that is left is those who are for or against on the fringes.

A public consultation on the Capital’s 2030 tourism strategy, being coordinated by the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) was extended after a poor response rate and will now close tomorrow. Whatever this consultation reveals, all that can be really said is that any decisions don’t have a public mandate.

Not all of this can be put at the council’s door and while the consultations are far from perfect they are not the reason there is such a poor response. In the end trust has to be placed in elected councillors and their paid officials and there is no doubt that the current administration have given people every reason to doubt their intentions.

Within the next three months we can expect more revelations about the Christmas market, a decision on the Old Royal High and further news on the IMPACT Centre so there will be no let up for the council.

One thing that can’t be blamed on the council is the listing of the Castle Terrace car park, the site of which they own, and without that recent listing it might well have been a possible site for the relocation of the IMPACT Centre.

The Old Royal High hotel of course needs its location if it is to deliver the luxury hotel it has promised so should that not go well for them I can’t see that being the end of it.

As for the more detailed revelations on the Christmas market due in February it is hard to know what else is to be discovered. All we can be certain of is that there are more twists and turns to come.