Edinburgh residents denied a say on controversial student flats after council fails to issue decision in time

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Edinburgh councillor slams “outrageous” failure to meet deadline

Edinburgh residents will be denied the opportunity to voice their opinions on controversial plans for new student flats in a public meeting, after the council failed to determine the application in time.

The 138-bed crescent-style block on the corner of Willowbrae Road and Northfield Drive will now be decided directly by a Scottish Government planning reporter.

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A local councillor called it “outrageous” that locals “won’t get to make their case against this development in a formal public forum”. The city’s planning convener said the applicants were “within their rights to appeal”.

The company behind the redevelopment were previously criticised for switching its plans for the former Radical Road bar site from 48 homes – approved by the planning sub-committee last September – to student accommodation.

An artist's impression of the planned student flats at the Radical Road bar site. Image: 83S Student Residence Limited.An artist's impression of the planned student flats at the Radical Road bar site. Image: 83S Student Residence Limited.
An artist's impression of the planned student flats at the Radical Road bar site. Image: 83S Student Residence Limited. | LDR

83S Student Residence Limited lodged  revised proposals two months later – sparking accusations from a local MP they were trying to “pack in students like sardines” in a bid to maximise their profit margin during a housing emergency.

However they were able to lodge an appeal after the local authority missed the February deadline to issue a decision.

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It means the application will no longer be scrutinised by councillors and members of the public at a committee and is now in the hands of the Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA).

In total 128 objections and 57 letters of support were received by the council. A report drafted by planners recommended refusing the bid in anticipation of it going before councillors.

They concluded it would be located too far away from university and college campuses with inadequate public transport links. It also failed to include provision of mainstream housing on site in line with student housing guidance for developers building on plots bigger than 0.25 hectares.

Commenting, SNP councillor for Craigentinny-Duddingston, Danny Aston, said: “It’s outrageous that the council failed to bring this in front of councillors in time for a decision, meaning that local people, who objected in big numbers, won’t get to make their case against this development in a formal public forum.

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“The Labour administration assured us after previous high profile failures like this that this wouldn’t happen again – yet here we are.

“I do welcome the eventual officer recommendation to refuse this application. Just a few months ago, this site was deemed suitable for mainstream housing, including 25 per cent affordable rent.

“Now the developer wants to flip the site to student accommodation despite the housing emergency in our city. I urge the reporter to heed the officer report and to reject this application.”

The Radical Road bar being demolished. Image: Danny Aston.The Radical Road bar being demolished. Image: Danny Aston.
The Radical Road bar being demolished. Image: Danny Aston. | Sub

Councillor James Dalgleish, convener of the planning committee, said that as the committee is quasi-judicial – meaning it has to make decisions based on policies and evidence as opposed to political positions – he could not comment or make commitments on live planning applications as that would be considered a conflict of interest.

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He continued: “However, I have every confidence in our officers to proactively engage with agents and applicants, and to assess and determine planning applications in an efficient manner.

“The applicant is within their rights to appeal and the final decision on the application now rests with the Scottish Government.”

Planning reporter Keith Bray, who has been appointed to consider the case is now set to visit the site in advance of issuing a decision, which is expected by June 26.

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