Planning department should 'not take the hit' for Edinburgh Christmas Market farce, says councillor

Neil Gardiner was speaking exclusively to the Edinburgh Briefing podcast which is available to listen to now.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 1:03 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 1:05 pm

Blame for the Christmas Market's lack of planning permission has been put firmly on Underbelly's shoulders by Edinburgh City Council's planning convener Neil Gardiner.

Speaking exclusively to the Edinburgh Briefing podcast, Cllr Gardiner said the council's planning department should "not take the hit" for the farce and said Underbelly could have applied for permission much earlier than they did in October.

Councillor Joanna Mowat said the scandal was a "failure of contract management".

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The Christmas Market was surrounded by controversy this winter

The Christmas Market operated throughout its close to three month run without planning permission and did not have a building warrant - despite structures being built in East Princes Street Gardens in October - a few days before it was due to open in November.

'Planners should not take the hit'

Cllr Gardiner said: "If there is any failing in the department then we need to know about it, but if it is not their failing, if it is the failing of others then the department should not take the hit.

"It's easy to castigate planners, it happens a lot and planners do make mistakes and there may be some mistakes in the process but the actual requirement to submit the application rested with the applicant, that's the way the planning system works.”

Joanna Mowat, presenter Conor Matchett, and Neil Gardiner in the Edinburgh Briefing Studio

Cllr Gardiner added he believed Underbelly could have put their planning application in at time, and added he would have to “disassociate my annoyance” when the application comes to committee.

He said: "I was aware from speaking to officers that they had dialogue with the applicant in August if not before. I don't think there was a need to wait until late October to start submitting that application.

"As an architect I am aware of what they would need, it would have been a simple set of drawings showing the layout so to say it is related to structural issues, that is more to do with building warrant.

"They could have probably moved that forward earlier.

Choices for the City Plan have also been outlined by councillors

"I will need to disassociate my annoyance with the process that has happened to date from the actual merits and demerits of the application."

'Failure of contract management'

Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat, who represents the city centre ward and has been a critic of the council’s handling of the Christmas market scandal, said the fault was a “failure of contract management”.

She said: "I think it is far too early to judge the planning part of this situation as the application has not been submitted yet.

"What I think is very clear has happened is there has been a failure of contract management between our contractors and the council officials who manage that contract and that is nothing to do with planning applications.

"It is to do with how we have a contract with Underbelly and how we have managed that contract. That for me is the biggest concern about where we are so far."

Cllr Gardiner also responded to concerns that Underbelly had been treated unfairly.

He said: "I need to give confidence to developers in the city that they are all treated equally and I need to give confidence to the citizens that everyone will be treated equally so there may well be lessons to be learnt, but ultimately it is for applicants to submit the applications."

The Edinburgh Briefing

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