Scottish Government overturns planning appeal for Union Canal 'boatels' as Boroughmuir vision 'blocked off'

Edinburgh Council's refusal for floating hotels outside Boroughmuir High has been overturned by the Scottish Government following an appeal.

Friday, 3rd January 2020, 5:09 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd January 2020, 5:33 pm
Barges moored on the Union canal will soon be joined by floating hotels.
Barges moored on the Union canal will soon be joined by floating hotels.

The Capital’s canal champion has told the Scottish Government and a public body to “hang their heads in shame” after refused planning permission was overturned to moor five floating hotels outside Boroughmuir High on the Union Canal.

The five “floatels” by the Edinburgh Boatel company have now been granted planning permission at an appeal after Edinburgh City Council’s development management sub-committee rejected the plans in April 2019, despite being recommended for approval by officials.

Almost 300 residents objected to the proposals – with fears raised it could prevent pupils at Boroughmuir High from using the canalside for any future projects including for sport and recreation.

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Each boatel, designed as Scandinavian narrow boats, will contain a double room and a bunk room – along with a separate bathroom and an open plan saloon or dining area. Boatel guests are expected to be families or “commercial executives looking for an unusual leisure experience”.

In her decision notice, Karen Heywood, the Scottish Government’s assistant chief reporter, said that the plan “accords overall with the relevant provisions of the development plan and that there are no material considerations which would justify a refusal of planning permission”.

The reporter added that Scottish Canals, which is the navigation authority acting on behalf of the Scottish Government, has highlighted that the “primary function of the canal is for powered licensed craft for leisure use” and that all other uses, including that of the school “are subordinate.

She added: “To my mind, it would be extremely foolish to disregard the advice of the official body charged with access and safety.

“I conclude that the hotel boats would comply with policy as they would provide an attractive frontage to the canal, maintain public access along the canal side and the canal itself; and, although they would prevent access to the canal by the school’s canoe club, such access should not be encouraged in this location.”

The decision has been blasted by the council’s canal champion, Cllr Gavin Corbett.

He said: “I am dismayed by this decision by the Scottish Government. The council’s planning committee unanimously refused permission for these floating hotel boats, quite rightly in my view. Now the Scottish Government reporter has ridden roughshod over the views of councillors, the school community and the wider community around the canal. I have yet to find anyone locally who supports boatels in this location.

“When Boroughmuir High School was built by the canal, there was genuine enthusiasm for the school having a real interaction with the canal rather than it just being a pretty backdrop. Now, access to the water will be blocked off by a line of holiday boats right outside the school door. What next? A caravan park outside every primary school? The Scottish Government and Scottish Canals should hang their heads in shame.”

In submissions handed over to the Scottish Government, the Edinburgh Boatel company, said the floating hotels would “compliment recreational use of the canal and protect the amenity of the area”.

The company added: “The proposal maximises commercial gain for Scottish Canals and will generate additional revenue for nearby businesses. We intend to work with these businesses to promote their products and services to our guests as part of the overall ‘living on canal’ experience.

“For recreational use of the canal by Boroughmuir High School pupils, there are other more suitable and safer access points on the canal a short walk from the school that will not require any additional funding or management time. By working with partners, the school can implement these initiatives sooner than

would be the case if they tried to undertake them on their own.”