Former Forth radio headquarters to become aparthotel

Radio Forth’s Edinburgh city centre headquarters will soon be turned into a 55-room self-catering hotel after planning permission was granted by the council.

Stations Forth 1 and 2 officially moved into a new home in the St James Quarter on Friday after 47 years of broadcasting from Forth House and Playfair House, less than half a mile away.

Plans to repurpose the B-listed buildings as an aparthotel have been met with a mixed response, with neighbours concerned about potential disturbances from renovations and the “transient population” the development would bring to the area.

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Discussing the proposals lodged by Supercity Aparthotels at a meeting on Wednesday (June 15), councillors were caught up in a dispute about the number of parking spaces required but agreed unanimously to give the go-ahead.

Forth House is set to become an Aparthotel.Forth House is set to become an Aparthotel.
Forth House is set to become an Aparthotel.

The high-end accommodation will include a communal lounge/bar area, 24/7 reception facilities and a gym.

Plans state the front of Forth House will remain ‘mostly unchanged’ with some minor changes at the rear. Playfair House on Broughton St Lane will be ‘stripped back to its superstructure’ to create a ‘new facade of natural stone and precast concrete built to align with adjacent buildings’.

It’s estimated around 18 jobs will be created by the aparthotel, which will have parking provision for seven vehicles, reduced from the current 24 spaces, including one disabled parking bay and five electric vehicle charging points.

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Speaking as plans went before the Development Management Sub-Committee, SNP councillor David Key said he was “delighted” that parking provision had been reduced but asked: “Why do we need car parking spaces at all in a city centre aparthotel with transport links that are basically door?”

He added: “I’m very unhappy about this car parking malarkey, clearly we’re bound by the guidance that is written down in various documents and I think we as a committee need to revisit that guidance. There’s no reason at all why a city centre aparthotel should have parking spaces of that numbers unless they are for disabled people.”

Cllr Lezley Cameron, Labour, replied: “Interesting phrase ‘car parking malarkey’, it’s a huge, serious issue, we’re trying to encourage active travel and sensible car use and all of that, however people with mobility problems and mobility issues, everybody is different in terms of their mobility needs.

“I welcome that there is a reduction in car parking spaces which supports our aims in terms of sustainability and active travel and all of that, but I for one do not want to be part of a council or planning authority that does not take seriously the needs and the aspirations of people with permanent, with temporary, with unexpected mobility difficulties. We’ve got to be mindful of those needs of our citizens and visitors as well.”

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The Greens’ Kayleigh O’Neill responded by pointing out that “not all disabled people use wheelchairs and not all disabled people rely on cars”.

Cllr O’Neill, a wheelchair user who testified to having “a big amount of lived experience”, added: “A large majority of disabled people in this city rely on buses, adapted bikes and stuff like that. So using disabled people to get more car parking isn’t helpful.”

Fellow Greens councillor Chas Booth pointed out that several local residents have concerns about the “potential impact this change of use and this development might have on their amenity”.

In an objection to the council, one neighbouring resident said noise form renovations would be “exceedingly frustrating”.

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They added: “There could also be increased noise from hotel guests against our shared wall. My partner and I are essential workers and need a quiet place to sleep and recover – not a home where we hear hotel guests talking and TVs blaring.”

Another said the aparthotel would be “another development attracting only a transient population”

“We need more permanent residents (including families) living in the city centre” they went on. “There are already enough, if not too many, such developments, i.e. hotels, hostels, airbnb and student accommodation, in the immediate vicinity. The development is too big and, for all the hype, will inevitably become another airbnb.”

Highlighting projections that showed the development could result in a ‘reduction of 159 jobs and £11.411 million GVA per annum (2019 prices)’ Cllr Jo Mowat, Conservatives, said: “I appreciate that the uses are supported in this area, but we’re talking about a substantial loss of potential employment opportunities much greater than for an Aparthotel.”

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She added: “We still need office accommodation in town, we still need still need that to be centrally located next to great transport links which this is.”

Planner Elaine Campbell replied: “The existing 159 full time equivalent jobs have actually moved less than half a mile away, still within the city centre I think two streets away so we still have that revenue.

“I have been round this building, it would not be lettable as an office, it’s fitted out as a radio studio at the moment. The investment that would be required to bring it back to grade A office development, I don’t know if it would return those same levels of numbers that economic development talk about.”

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