The New Town Quarter planning application is one of the largest and most complex lodged in Edinburgh for a generation. As such, we have received a variety of questions raised by members of the public since the application went live at the end of August. The following is a list of those questions about the planning application, together with our published answers. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as more questions are received and answered.
The way the site interacts with the park has improved significantly as a result of the lengthy discussions with the Friends of the Park group, local residents’ groups and of course the Council. The initial plans for the entrance to the park from New Town Quarter have been scaled back to reflect the views we received. The aim is to create a welcoming entrance to the park and enhance the existing space. The development also adds usable public and green space to create a more attractive overall experience for park users. There will be some properties that overlook the park, and that is accepted. We think on balance, that it is far better to have flats that face in part towards the park as there are advantages to having public space overlooked, not least of which is enhanced security. This is of course a common feature with many parks and public spaces in Edinburgh, and indeed it is common world-wide within city centres.
Any potential overshadowing by buildings has been very carefully considered by our design and planning team and is detailed in the “Daylighting, Sunlighting and Overshadowing Chapter of the Environmental Impact Assessment” (EIA) report, submitted with the planning application. Our assessment analyses all the issues in detail and demonstrates that not only are our proposals fully compliant with Council guidance but will actually improve some existing levels of overshadowing within the park.
It is understood from the Friends group and the Council that work is required on a range of trees and to improve some of the tired infrastructure. A significant contribution will be made through a legal Section 75 agreement, which is dealt with through the planning system. This is normal procedure and is being discussed and will be agreed with the Council in due course. It is worth pointing out that the park has had issues over safety and security, some of which have been well documented in the press over the past year. This is something we are acutely aware of and we believe the development will provide a benefit to the long-term security and safety of the park and its users - and that having residential properties nearby can be a deterrent to unwanted and anti-social behaviour.
We are preserving as many mature trees as we can whilst being able to carry out an effective and deliverable development. The existing tree ‘screen’ will be preserved along Fettes Row and Royal Terrace, though a small number of trees will be removed near the junction with Dundas Street. We will also implement a 25-year tree maintenance and management plan.
The detailed breakdown of trees affected is:
This will make the development more in keeping with the New Town where there are no street trees. Improvements to the trees in King George V Park will be addressed in the section 75 agreement, which is entirely for the Council and the developers to agree based on what is needed. If all the trees were retained, this would reduce the scope to provide appropriate open space and public realm, increase pressure to raise the height and density on the remaining site and would likely push the development nearer to the park.
A total of 68 new trees will be planted in three main areas within the development:
The net loss of trees is 16, but 26 of the trees to be removed are already agreed as part of the existing planning consent at Eyre Place. It is also worth noting that 19 of the trees to be removed, would be taken away in any event on health and safety grounds.
The approach to preserving trees on our development site has been one of the most detailed ever undertaken in the city centre. We have sought throughout to protect the maximum number of trees, especially those which help screen the development for local residents. We have had two independent tree experts examine all of these issues in depth. We have also been working with the Council to come up with long term proposals to enhance and preserve the tree resource both for the local community and the park and as a result have put forward a 25-year tree management plan. For developments of scale in a city centre, it is often a question of balance, and the buildings proposed in this location is considered appropriate when viewed in the context of the entire scheme.
We have been very clear from the start of the development process that the tree screening on Fettes Row and Royal Crescent will be an important and retained feature in the development, and you will be able to see that we have managed to achieve that. We will be following best practice with regard to any required maintenance and pruning of existing trees and also for any additional tree planting and the species used will be consistent with and complimentary to those already in place.
With respect to heights, our proposals are completely in keeping with the neighbouring properties and indeed at the eastern end of the development the height is substantially lower, as per the intensive consultation we have undertaken with both the Council and Historic Environment Scotland. The dimensions are also in keeping with a city centre site in such a location, but they do vary with the individual use of the buildings. There will also be significant new public space created on land that was previously built over. We have worked hard to make sure that the proposals are consistent with Council policy.
The elevational composition of Dundas Street, south of Fettes Row, is characterized by the stepping of buildings at roof height and vertical articulation in the street elevation corresponding to original feuing patterns and mutual gables. This is primarily informed by the topography of the street - and the steep southerly rise in Dundas Street from Fettes Row. Over the extent of the development site, the topography flattens out. The proposed response is the same however as we have worked hard with the Council to achieve this, with the topography informing the stepped requirement to mediate between existing adjacent building heights - to Fettes Row and Eyre Place.
The proposed specification, location and distribution of material finishes across the masterplan has been carefully considered by the team throughout the consideration of the proposals. We have heard many views from local residents and been driven by a desire to create a development that adds quality and creates a vibrant new environment for its residents and occupiers. It has been informed by the context of the surrounding area and by the views we’ve received from statutory consultees as well.
On materials, we have reflected very closely many of the comments made by residents during the public consultation and the views of the council and Historic Environment Scotland. We are very proud for the work that has been done and understand that the use of materials can sometimes become a matter of debate in which personal opinions can vary. Our approach has been to listen very carefully to the views we’ve received, and in conjunction with working closely with the Council planning officers we have sought to match those in ambition and detail. Our aim is to create a very high-quality development and community that enhances the area and leaves a lasting and positive legacy in the area. We are confident that the proposals will achieve this.
Full details of our traffic management proposals are available in the Transport Assessment which forms part of the planning application submission. We have scaled back the proposals compared to those proposed previously by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and we have worked closely with the Council to create a new community that relies on public transport, walking and cycling rather than the use of the private car.
There will be less traffic (especially at peak hours) with these proposals than when the site operated as offices. We always take road safety very seriously and any enhancements to road safety enhancements required by the Council will be met.
Parking has been much discussed, and we understand that those living in the development will not be able to obtain permission from the Council for a parking permit for the local area. Our efforts have been focused on delivering a development that creates a community with low car use and ownership, which is consistent with the aims and objectives of the Council. Car ownership is generally low in the New Town and may well fall further as initiatives like car sharing increase in popularity. We have carefully planned these proposals to minimise car use and be flexible enough to adapt to lower car ownership and use. This is one of the most sustainable housing sites ever delivered in the city we are confident that the proposals comply with all the relevant Council policies and will work effectively in practice.
An aspect of the proposals which is often overlooked but is vitally important, is the sustainable benefits that we would be seeking to bring with new development. Obviously, the existing site is redundant and offers no benefit to the area or to the City of Edinburgh. The existing buildings are not suitable for re-use and would be very inefficient for energy use and carbon footprint. It is even more evident now that all future buildings really need to be designed to take account of people movement, hygiene and to have appropriate working space - even if it is at home.
With the demolition of the existing derelict buildings, it would be the intention to re-use as much of the demolished building material as possible within the site works. We have a team of professional consultants working on sustainable initiatives for the site, along with making sure it has IT resilience for the future. Ample space will be provided for cycling (following Council guidelines) and provision will be made for electric car spaces within the basement car park. Initiatives such as car sharing and hiring schemes can also be promoted with the Build to Rent funds we are in discussions with, in order that we can promote sustainable modes of transport which will befit a city centre development with access to excellent transport links. The predicted level of car movements will be lower than the previous occupation of the offices, and lower levels of car use should also help alleviate concerns raised by locals with regards to parking.
The developed site would also benefit from having a comprehensive estate management plan, where all buildings and common areas would be regularly and routinely cleaned and maintained. This also includes the 25-year tree management plan for the site along with any agreement we reach with the Council for making improvements to King George V Park, with the ambition to improve the long-term condition of the wider area.
Cycling arrangements in the park should not change as a result of the development. We have met with the Friends of the Park group many times and with other interested parties. Initial proposals to create two accesses to the park have been scaled back. We believe that the current proposals strike the best achievable balance between access, safety and good management of pedestrian and cycle access.
The proportion of affordable housing proposed is in line with Council policy, i.e. 25% of the total number of units proposed (for developments of 12 units or more). This equates to 88 units. An Affordable Housing Statement forms part of the application submission which provides more information on the proposed approach to affordable housing. From the very start of this process we have made it clear that we would follow the Council's guidance and requirements regarding affordable housing.
The Demolition and Construction chapter of the EIA Report in our planning application sets out the anticipated programme of the demolition and construction works for the development, and we will be following best practice. This chapter also presents measures and procedures for minimising nuisance and disturbance during construction. It is proposed that a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) would be prepared and implemented. The CEMP would include details of various environmental management controls necessary for environmental protection during construction. A specific Construction Traffic Management Plan (CTMP) would also be produced by the Contractors in order to minimise the transport effects of construction works on the local community, residents, businesses and the environment. Some disruption is an inevitability of any development. We will at all times aim to be good neighbours however and ensure that all works are carried out in a considerate and timely fashion. No developer can promise that there will be no disruption from construction works, but those works will be temporary. What we have focused on is creating a new community that will enhance the neighbourhood for all its residents. The buildings on site are of their time, and we are confident that these proposals will offer a massive improvement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a radical impact on the economy generally, and in particular the travel and tourism sector. As a result, it has been necessary to review the hotel element of the New Town Quarter development and consider an alternative use for this part of the site. The alternative proposal is for additional residential dwellings to occupy the hotel site. Procedurally, this has to be subject to a separate application for planning permission, including submission of a new Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) which would initiate a new phase of consultation with stakeholder groups and local residents, including a new public consultation event, specific to this alternative proposal. Given current circumstances, this public consultation event will likely be held as an online exhibition and will go live in October. We are confident that the overall mix of uses remain robust and deliverable.
Latest published research shows the New Town Quarter development is poised to bring significant economic benefit to the local area, and the wider Edinburgh economy. A report by UK planning and engineering consultancy The Waterman Group, commissioned by Ediston, reveals that the operational phase of the development would create more than 700 full-time jobs whilst generating an annual GVA (Gross Added Value) economic uplift of £34.4 million to the local and regional economy. The construction phase alone would create a further £27.7 million GVA at a regional level, creating a further 60 full time jobs. And many of the local bars, restaurants, cafes, barbers, hairdressers and shops will also benefit from the huge amount of business and activity that development is set to generate during construction and beyond.
Local business in Dundas Street and the area surrounding the New Town Quarter development are now opening up for business, following almost four months of lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. And while economic forecasts for the area make grim reading, with Edinburgh predicted to record its highest levels of unemployment since July 1995, the New Town Quarter planning application is set to bring confidence and hope to many neighbouring businesses who are committing to a long-term future in the area.