Edinburgh's outside seating areas in Cockburn Street refused permission - but can stay for now

Councillors have rejected planning applications for outside seating areas in Cockburn Street and High Street - but the structures could still be allowed to remain in place for a while in recognition of the pressures facing businesses during the pandemic.

By Ian Swanson
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 4:55 am

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The decking has been a lifeline for many pubs and cafes when restrictions drastically cut the numbers allowed to sit indoors.

But planners say the structures are not in keeping with the character of the area and would have a detrimental effect on the World Heritage Site as well as being a potential nuisance to residents.

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Eleven outdoor seating areas have been refused permission, but will stay in place for now.

A report from officials recommended refusal of the applications for 11 seating areas at various sites in the two streets, all but one of which are already there.

But the report noted the Scottish Government had urged a relaxed attitude on planning enforcement until September 2022 and a report on temporary structures was due for consideration at the planning committee next month.

Some councillors questioned why the applications were being considered ahead of that discussion and why temporary permission should not be granted.

But officials argued the nature of Covid meant it was difficult to predict when the decking would no longer be necessary and even granting temporary permission could mean it was still allowed when the need had passed, whereas if the applications were refused the council had more flexibility to react to changing circumstances and decide when to close the structures.

Lib Dem councillor Hal Osler said it sent a confusing message to refuse permission but do nothing about it and then revisit the issue in February.

And the Greens’ Chas Booth agreed. "We’re dealing with these things the wrong way round.”

He continued: “I think these do clearly have an impact on the World Heritage Site, but for me a fundamental question is whether granting a temporary permission would allow us to acknowledge the very significant impact the Covid pandemic has had on some of these businesses. We’re not out of the woods yet, we’re not out of the restrictions and it has been extremely difficult for some of these businesses.”

Tory councillor Joanna Mowat said the question was whether the structures caused harm in a World Heritage Site. “If you agree with that then we have to refuse them. If we give any sort of permission, temporary or otherwise, it is quite difficult to repel that at a later date.”

And SNP committee convener Neil Gardiner said: “We’re being asked to make a planning decision on whether these structures are acceptable or not and in my view they’re not. But we are in a worldwide pandemic and that’s the reason why the enforcement needs to be considered separately, to align with the needs of these businesses and the public.”

The rejected applications were for decked outdoor seating areas at: Ecco Vino, 19 Cockburn Street; Coffee 'N More, 34 Cockburn Street; The Wall, 45 Cockburn Street; La Locanda, 61 Cockburn Street; Laila's Bistro, 63 Cockburn Street; The Scotsman’s Lounge, 73 Cockburn Street; Scran, 8-10 North Bridge Arcade; Whiski Bar and Restaurant, 119 High Street; The Clam Shell, 148 High Street; and Gordon's Trattoria, 231 High Street.

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