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Leith Community councillors were shocked back in February when a “last minute” change to a Leith Conservation Area planning report recommended that the Mecca bingo hall on Manderston Street should not join the conservation area despite proposals to protect the building, deriving from a “well attended” public consultation period across 2020 and 2021.
Many Leith and Edinburgh residents contributed to the planning process via feedback forms to help shape future plans which resulted in a 2020 planning document that produced two outcomes regarding the fate of the beloved Leith bingo hall – one master plan protecting the building, the other to exclude it from protection.
But at a committee meeting on February 23, voting councillors were handed a planning report that did not effectively explain that there were two possible scenarios regarding the bingo hall and instead the document placed emphasis on the option to remove it from the conservation area, causing outrage from Leith residents.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, Green councillor for Leith ward, Chas Booth, who put forward a motion to include the bingo hall said: “I think it’s important that we reflect back on the February decision of this committee” adding it was “quite clear that there are two options.”
He said: “I was one of the committee members at that point who was quite happy to accept the officer’s recommendation that the bingo hall be excluded. I think, as we’ve already agreed as a committee, that was based on incomplete information.”
Councillor Booth added: “Planning should be a process that is done with local communities, not on their behalf. I think there has been a degree of failure of process here.”
He added: “But I think the fact that this conservation area was proposed twice to committee without the bingo hall despite the fact that the hall was quite a big part of why people responded to the initial consultation is quite worrying and I think going forward we’ve just got to be a bit better at briefing the room to what people are actually voting on.”
Newly appointed planning convener, James Dalgleish who chaired his first committee meeting last Wednesday said that “there are lessons to be learned.”
Councillor Dalgleish said: “Planning is a very important committee, we make big decisions for our communities and for our city and we have to make sure those are the right decisions.
“We can take a different approach to the way that we deal with these important issues and that starts off with more consultation with hopefully longer periods of time with our community councils and individuals who might be affected by that decision.”
The planning convener added: “We understand that a lot of the community’s trust has been eroded in the planning system in the past in the way that the council has actioned planning applications so for me that’s about bucking that trend and making sure communities are put first.”