A former social work centre will be turned into homes – despite claims the council is being “held hostage” over a lack of affordable housing.
Springwell House on Gorgie Road will be converted into 39 apartments, while seven town houses will be built in an extension. Developers, AMA New Town Ltd, will not provide a single affordable home as part of the scheme or any funding for the council to build any social housing, due to “exceptional circumstances”.
The premises, empty since 2013, were most recently used as a council and NHS social work and health centre. The flats will be formed within Springwell House, an existing listed villa building and a new modern extension.
Officers told the development management sub-committee that in a best-case scenario, “only a 3 per cent profit would be achieved on the site as a whole” if affordable housing was included – which would “render the scheme financially unviable”.
Planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner, who called for the project to be refused, said it was “quite remarkable” that no affordable housing provision was being provided as fellow councillors concluded that the viability was down to the poor condition of the listed buildings, adding: “It looks like we are being held hostage to the threat to the listed buildings.”
Council policy dictates that 25 per cent of the units should be affordable homes and Cllr Chas Booth urged for the plans to be rejected to tell developers that affordable housing provision should be taken seriously. He said: “Why is it for us to accept them paying too much money for the site and the seller not maintaining the buildings?
“There’s a desperate need for affordable housing. We have a policy there and a choice whether that policy means something. For the sake of the many people who are in desperate need for a flat that they can afford, we must reject this application.”
But Cllr John McLellan labelled the view that the council had been backed into a corner over the threat to listed buildings as “over-simplification” and a “cartoon-like approach”.
He added: “It’s not the developer’s fault that the council and NHS has allowed these buildings to deteriorate.”
In justifying no affordable housing, planning officers said the plans would “safeguard the retention of two important listed buildings which are currently vacant and deteriorating, and which contribute to the historical character of the local area”.
The vice convener, Cllr Maureen Child, backed the proposals being given the green light, but acknowledged that affordable housing is “extremely important”.
She added: “The important thing is to retain these buildings for use that haven’t had a use for a number of years.”
Councillors voted six to five in favour of approving the plans.