Edinburgh's Jock's Lodge student accommodation plans sees pubs hit back at campaigners

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Businesses hit back at campaign to halt student housing plans.

Pub owners at Jock’s Lodge have claimed they are being ‘used’ by campaigners who are trying to stop a student flats development going ahead.

Owners of the Willow pub and Limelight at Jock’s Lodge, which is currently under consideration as a site for student flats, have hit back at groups fighting the plans which they say have wrongly focused on the loss of the pubs. The proposals to erect a seven storey building with 191 student rooms would see the Willow demolished and Limelight owners set up another ‘community pub’ on the site.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Locals expressed concerns at the loss of the bars, as well as the concentration of student flats in the area and impact on the historic character of the site. A local campaign group formed to oppose the proposals has launched a petition against the plans which has more than 3700 signatures. The group claims it could drive business away and ‘lead to a depression of the state of Jocks Lodge, Smokey Brae, London Road, and the wider East Lothian area’.

Artists impression of student flats plans Jock's LodgeArtists impression of student flats plans Jock's Lodge
Artists impression of student flats plans Jock's Lodge

But businesses say it’s not a ‘sustainable location’ and called for their decision to sell to be respected. Owners of the Willow pub and Limelight issued a joint statement saying it has been difficult to run a pub at the location, made worse by the pandemic and cost of living crisis. The statement from business owners was shared by developers Alumno on Thursday, ahead of the Friday deadline for the public to comment on the proposals.

We want to sell

The statement read: "We write as owners of our relevant establishments on the Jock’s Lodge site, and we have noted recent media attention focusing on the loss of these premises to the community.

“It should be noted that we have all come to an agreement with Alumno to sell our properties as part of the site redevelopment, should planning permission be granted for its proposals. Clearly it is disappointing to note that we appear to be being used as a means to try and prevent the site from being developed, when we want to sell.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Councillor Danny Aston has called for plans to be scrappedCouncillor Danny Aston has called for plans to be scrapped
Councillor Danny Aston has called for plans to be scrapped

“For those of us who own commercial property on the site, it has been a challenging experience to operate and manage in this location, exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis. Many of the tenants have changed hands a number of times over the years, and this demonstrates that it is not a sustainable location.”

It added: “The overall plans for the site will see the delivery of high-quality purpose-built student accommodation, including ground floor commercial space. The intention is that a new community ‘local’ food/drink use will be created in place of the neighbouring Limelite, which will have the same ownership, providing continuity and a venue for the community to come together and socialise in.

“The Limelite owners have high aspirations for refreshed and improved facilities, which will include gourmet food and an outside space. We hope that this clarifies our position and our support and desire to sell can be respected.”

Changes to plans ‘trivial’

Developers made changes to the plans for following a public consultation after a pre-application notice for the development submitted in December 2020 sparked protests.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But SNP Danny Aston accused developers of 'trivial' changes that don't address concerns of the local community. He said: “Alumno conducted what they termed a ‘consultation exercise’ last year where they asked for views from local people. I suspect they didn’t like what they heard in response. They’ve made minimal, superficial changes to their application. They have not tackled the underlying concerns of the community, which forces me to conclude it was always nothing more than a PR stunt.

“For instance, the simple reality is that Alumno’s application would reduce the number of pubs on the site from two to one, and the number of other commercial units from five to one. This would gut the Jock’s Lodge ‘local centre’ – the closest that we have to a high street in this area, where people come for shopping, a meal and a drink. The pub now called the Willow has been operating as a popular family venue since 2017, initially as the Barrelhouse.

“I wish the tenants of the Willow pub all the best with their new bar in Musselburgh. They’re clearly talented hospitality operators and will no doubt make their new premises a success too. But how that benefits Jock’s Lodge or the people who use its amenities is a mystery to me. Evidently, this has always been about Alumno maximising their margins, with lip service paid to the local community.

“Local people still have until 23:59 on Friday 10th February to get their comment into the Council’s planning team and make clear why we need to save Jock’s Lodge.”

Of more than 1100 comments received 728 are objections and 393 are in support of the plans.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.