Leith Links Community Council responds to Constitution Street & Johns Lane planning application
On 16 December 2019 Leith Links Community Council submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council our response, as a statutory consultee, to the following planning application:
19/05184/FUL | Proposed Change of Use and Redevelopment of 111 Constitution Street and the existing derelict warehouse at 18-25 John’s Lane to create an overall development comprising of 39 residential units. Additionally, two commercial units are proposed fronting Constitution Street. | 111 – 115 Constitution Street Edinburgh EH6 7AE
The planning application can be viewed by clicking here.
16 December 2019
Comment from Leith Links Community Council (statutory consultee)
Applicant: K & S MIR Ltd. Agent: Covell Matthews Architects Ltd
Proposed Change of Use and Redevelopment of 111-115 Constitution Street and the existing derelict warehouse at 18-25 John’s Lane to create an overall development comprising of 39 residential units. Additionally, two commercial units are proposed fronting Constitution Street.
Leith Links Community Council (LLCC) hereby OBJECTS to this planning application
Our Objection is presented in 4 different sections
1. Comments from LLCC
2. Comments from local resident A
3. Comments from local resident B
4. Accompanying statement from LLCC
1: Comments from LLCC
These proposals are an improvement upon the same applicant’s earlier plans for the site. There are some good things about them:
+ Bringing the semi-derelict warehouse on John’s Lane back into use is obviously potentially a good thing.
+ The revised application’s reduction of the number of units proposed across the sites – from 49 to 39 – and the inclusion of more open space is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. The first application for the sites pitched, as stated, for 49 residential units – calibrated so as to avoid the constraints incumbent on developments of 50 and over said units – and now it’s for 39. But we still think this number is too high for the sites.
+ Including two commercial units in the revised plan for the Latto’s garage site is an improvement on the previous withdrawn plans which completely eliminated all commercial function.
However, these improved proposals still fall a long way short of a scheme that would be sympathetic to the site and neighbourhood and acceptable to the local community. The
development is too dense, the units are too small, and arguably, better ideas for the site’s use overall than just “packing ‘em in” with little light or space would surely be achievable, given the chance of a wider community/local business engagement about it. (See also Part 4: Accompanying Statement).
The proposed development falls short on a number of counts, either failing to meet or contravening City of Edinburgh policies/guidelines:
LDP Policy Env 6: states: Development within a conservation area or affecting its setting will be permitted which a) “preserves or enhances the special character or appearance of the conservation area and is consistent with the relevant conservation area character appraisal” ….and … c) “which demonstrates high standards of design and utilises materials appropriate to the historic environment.”
In our view, the current proposal fails to meet either condition.
Commercial/Employment use: Latto’s garage is a thriving and popular business, in keeping with the nature and grain of this neighbourhood in a mixed use locality in the conservation area. These sites have always had industry/employment as part of their use. The Design and Access Statement claims the development would be “complementary to existing uses and sustainable” but we would dispute this claim – how is completely removing this business and employment use complementary or sustainable?
The proposal also fails to meet the requirements of LDP Policy Hou 2 Housing Mix
The Council will “seek the provision of a mix of house types and sizes where practical, to meet a range of housing needs, including those of families, older people and people with special needs, and having regard to the character of the surrounding area and its accessibility.”
This proposal includes mainly one-bedroom flats and studio flats, with only a few two-bedroom and none large, and therefore would not cater for anything like families, for instance, or long-term tenants such as key workers. The development would therefore not add positively, in a balanced way, to the stability, social mix and diversity of the local neighbourhood.
Policy HOU 4 – Density
“The Council will seek an appropriate density of development on each site having regard to:
· its characteristics and those of the surrounding area
· the need to create an attractive residential environment and safeguard living conditions within the development ….”
The proposed development is very dense, in comparison with neighbouring traditional tenements. It proposes a high number of small and tightly packed individual units. Many of the units are extremely small – over 50% are less than 50sqm, with some as tiny as 36sqm – with restricted space and light. We think a redesign should be required that increases the size of the units and reduces the density of the development overall.
Policy Hou 6 Affordable Housing
“Planning permission for residential development, including conversions, consisting of 12 or more units should include provision for affordable housing amounting to 25% of the total number of units proposed. For proposals of 20 or more dwellings, the provision should normally be on-site. Whenever practical, the affordable housing should be integrated with the market housing.”
This development does not include affordable housing, but suggests negotiating a ‘commuted sum payment in lieu’. We find this completely unacceptable as it does not contribute to the amenity of the immediate local area.
Effects on future occupier amenity
Because the proposed development is so extremely densely packed with so many small and tightly packed individual units, the amenity of future residents is bound to be severely compromised.
The design strongly suggests that this development will be used for temporary accommodation. And, as is acknowledged by the city council and beyond that at Holyrood, there is enough of this already in Leith – and certainly more than enough of the B&B type offering that this particular landowner already has a large amount of, in this hyper-local area.
On this, together with the combined applications relating to John’s Lane, we do not think these proposals meet ELDP requirements.
Effects on amenity of existing residents:
We are concerned about overshadowing by the new four-storey building, particularly over lower storeys on the north side, affecting the amenity of existing residents there – those affected may include folks living in the Sundial warehouse conversions at 97 Constitution St, and those domiciled down the back of the wee lane between Con St numbers 91 and 93, those occupying 101a, and not forgetting the future residents of John’s Lane itself.
We note that the applicant has not provided the requisite overshadowing, sun and daylighting studies in relation to both proposed and existing buildings. City of Edinburgh
Council should request these before the applications can be adjudicated or properly considered.
PART 2: Comments from local resident A
(From a local resident, experienced in the field, whose wish to remain anonymous and whose views we respect:)
Applicable policies: Del 1,Des 1-13Env 2-4,Env 7-9,Env 12,Env 16,Env 18-22,Hou 1-7,Hou 9-10,Ret 1,Ret 6,Ret 8,Ret 10-11,Tra 1- 4,Tra 6,Tra 8-9,Tra 11,RS 1,RS 4,RS 6-7
Material Considerations: Des 1-13
· It could be argued that the new buildings proposed have a detrimental effect on the quality and· character of the surrounding area due to the walling materials proposed. There is very little brickwork in the immediate vicinity, and no ‘bronze’ cladding that I’m aware of. While these materials may not constitute a particular concern if used sparingly, in this instance they are the prevailing finish on all of the new buildings. Material quality concerns also exist over the ‘bronze coloured aluminium cladding’.
· In my opinion the addition of the large dormers to the listed building on John’s Lane significantly alter the character of the building and make the existing central gables subservient, or at least significantly less prominent. I appreciate that this building is currently derelict, and that LBC approval has already been granted, however I feel that the conversion could be handled more sympathetically.
· I note that ‘bronze’ cladding is proposed to the new build area of the site and ‘zinc’ cladding to the listed building conversion. There would be a more cohesive relationship between the old and new sections of the site if these materials could be standardised throughout.
· The relationship between the proposed new 4-storey building and the adjacent existing hipped roof of the category B and C listed buildings to the North appears awkward. Consideration should be given to limiting the extent of the 4-storey accommodation or reconsidering the roof design to provide a more amicable relationship with the existing neighbouring property.
· The pended area between the two landscaped courtyards is excessive and has the potential to become a dark and forgotten space, with little natural surveillance making it susceptible to antisocial behaviour.
· The 4-storey section of the development has an overbearing presence on the adjacent proposed units, particularly N1, N2 & N5 with potential for overlooking which is detrimental to the amenity of these residents. Acceptable levels of daylighting to the habitable rooms of these units would also be questionable – it does not appear that a daylighting study has been carried out thus far.
· Refuse storage and collection arrangements are not in accordance with City of Edinburgh Council’s own design guidance – more than 10m pull to collection points, more than 30m travel distance from residential properties to storage areas, no turning head facility on the (assumed to be) non-adopted John’s Lane.
· No indication provided of any low/zero carbon technology. Should this take the form of PV arrays or air-sourced heat pumps, the visual effect should be considered as a material consideration and therefore the extent of visible LZCT should be indicated on the application drawings.
· Classification restrictions should apply to the proposed commercial unit operations to protect the amenity of the future residents and existing neighbouring properties.
· No indication provided of any Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) provision or consideration of water conservation measures. Presumably the nature of the development would lead to additional water run-off from the site and therefore proposals for SUDS should be clarified.
· A detailed hard & soft landscape design has not been provided for review.
Env 2-4, 7-9, 12, 16, 18-22
· The proposed new 3-storey building fronting Constitution Street does not appropriately fit into the setting of the category B listed St. James Church Officer’s House at 119 Constitution Street in terms of its overall mass and overbearing nature, particularly where it appears to incorporate a gable built directly against the Church Officer’s House boundary, creating a looming effect over the 2-storey listed building.
· The Southern end of the 4-storey block appears to be built tight to the category B listed boundary wall with St. James Church to the South. Proposals should be clarified as to how the structural integrity of this wall is to be maintained and protected from significant undermining during construction.
· Construction of the dormers to the listed building on John’s Lane (as discussed above) contribute to the diminution of the existing Architectural features and interest.
· Given the historic nature of the surrounding conservation area, a pre-development archaeological desk top study and/or Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) would be prudent to protect any archaeological legacy findings.
· No survey appears to have been carried out for European Protected Species (EPS) thus far, particularly in relation to bats in the existing derelict listed buildings.
· Given the historical industrial nature of the site, a full Site Investigation (SI) should be undertaken to establish the ground conditions and extent of toxic materials, with a strategy for protecting future residents established.
Hou 1-7, 9-10
· The concentration of studio and 1-bedroom accommodation (66%), and the distinct lack of any accommodation incorporating more than 2-bedrooms (0%) will not contribute to a socially diverse development.
· 3no. units (7.6%) are greater than 91m² in floor area which is significantly lower than the City of Edinburgh Council design guidance recommendation of 20%.
· Flat type 5 at 53m² in floor area is below the City of Edinburgh Council design guidance recommendation for a 2-bedroom property of 66m².
· Particularly striking is the concentration and apparent over-provision of studio units which represent over 48% of the development alone. Given the reputation of the applicant, and vague statements in the DAS such as ‘aimed at the rental market’, it seems likely that they plan to retain some proportion of the site as-developed to feed into their own business operations housing the homeless in basic accommodation. Depending on the number of properties retained, this tenure blanket has the potential to destroy any social diversity in the development and have a detrimental effect on the amenity of the other residents, both within the site and in the wider area. The proposed tenure must be established for consideration under this application.
· No affordable housing (conforming to the Council’s model) has been proposed, contrary to policy for a development of this size. The offer within the DAS of a commuted sum in lieu of an appropriate level of affordable housing provision should be treated as a last resort for the Council, and should be backed by a detailed justification from the applicant demonstrating that a development including the requisite number of affordable units would not be financially viable.
· More than 50% of the dwellings proposed will be single aspect which is contrary to City of Edinburgh Council’s design guidance.
Ret 1, 6, 8, 10-11
· The classification of the proposed commercial units should be restricted by condition to protect the amenity of the adjacent residential occupants.
Tra 1-4, 6, 8-9, 11
· The amenity of existing neighbouring occupants will be detrimentally affected by the low car parking provision proposed. It is appreciated that Council policy is to reduce vehicle journeys generally to ease congestion and improve environmental conditions, however realistically many of the future occupants of this development will need access to a car and will then resort to parking on the adjacent, already very busy, streets. There are no parking controls on the surrounding streets currently and therefore justification for the low levels of parking in this development is weak.
· The suggestion of downward negotiation of tram contributions should be resisted on the basis that the transport strategy relies heavily on use of public transport networks.
RS1, 4, 6-7
· Scottish Water consultation on the suitability of the existing supply & drainage network to support this development should be provided for review.
PART 3: Comments from local resident B
(From a local resident, experienced in the field, whose wish to remain anonymous and whose views we respect:)
I would object in terms of:
– Effect on future occupier amenity
– Effect on amenity of existing resident
The restoration of the John’s Lane listed building is a good thing, also the buildings fronting Constitution Street are ok in scale with reasonable materials proposed. However the tall central building is more of a problem along with other issues noted below.
General comments on design:
– First impression is the number of units is high throughout and seems quite dense compared to neighbouring traditional tenements.
– In regard to the new 4-storey building, overshadowing must be a problem, particularly at lower storeys on the North side of this building due to proximity and height of new built form, affecting the amenity of future residents at Johns Lane and existing residences to the North.
– The apartments in the existing building on John’s Lane appear to have inadequate sun and daylighting, Some with only east facing single window with sunlight disappearing before noon. On the west elevation, many of
the existing openings infilled with timber – minimal glazing and natural light. Additional glazing would greatly improve amenity of apartments and shared circulation spaces, which have little natural light with reduced amenity for residents. The infill of some of the larger openings is quite crude with a small window located within the larger timber infill.
– I would expect CEC Planning to request overshadowing, sun and daylighting studies for new developments in relation to both proposed and existing buildings. These have not been provided.
– Quite a lot of the flats are extremely small – 36sqm! Restricted space and light, means the amenity of future residents is compromised. They will also struggle to meet Building Standards at warrant stage.
– Areas of flats at dormer level are overestimated. Only part of the area under the coombed ceiling should be included in the area calculation.
– The housing mix is highly biased towards extremely small studio or single bed apartments – over 50% are less than 50sqm. The development does not cater adequately for larger family units. (LDP Policy Hou 2 Housing Mix). Also no affordable housing included.
– Proposal to negotiate commuted sum payment in lieu of providing on site affordable units; how would this contribute to improving wider local amenities. Will this be publicly discussed?
– Many of the above items are specifically referred to in the Edinburgh Local Development Plan (LDP) Housing Policies – see page 114 onwards https://beta.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/25264/edinburgh-local-development-plan
Particularly LDP Policy Hou 4 Housing Density, Hou 2 Housing Mix, Hou 5 Conversion to Housing, Hou 6 Affordable Housing
– Environmental sustainability? Car free, pro-bike/ bus to be encouraged but in light of the current climate emergency is this really enough? Are any renewable technologies proposed that would need planning consent (solar panels, air source heat pumps), any green materials/ construction etc. This would be further questioned at warrant stage.
– Sustainable urban drainage; is there sufficient green space to deal with attenuation of surface water from roofs and hardstanding to avoid additional pressure on the local sewers? Are the planners consulting SEPA in their respect?
– References to permeability of the site; there are gates so not very permeable to local residents! Assume this is a private gated enclosure?
Accompanying Statement from LLCC
While we are aware that not all of our concerns in this section might be considered as “material” to planners in their routine consideration of individual planning applications, we want to set these proposals in the context of recent (and future) planning legislation, and put them on record.
Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 – Place
The recent Planning Act gave communities no power of appeal against inappropriate or undesirable developments. However it included the strong recommendation that communities should be consulted and involved in the earliest possible stages of planning of proposed new developments, ideally within the context of their own community-led ‘Local Place Plan’.
Local authorities will be required to ‘take account of’ the views of communities as embodied in such plans. Scottish Government ministers are committed to carry out a review of local place plans, including “the support given to community bodies to prepare and submit a local place plan”, and an assessment of how place plans have influenced planning authorities (including “the determination of applications for planning permission”).
While this is still all very new, it is clear that the intention is there at Scottish Government level to ensure that local authorities pay attention to the views of members of the local community, as regards the wider amenity of a neighbourhood / district / community as experienced in an integrated way by the community (i.e. not just building by building in the narrowest, piecemeal fashion).
We would also like to notify the planning department that the communities of Leith are currently in the process of collaboratively developing a Local Place Plan, which will be underpinned by very clear statements from the community about the values and qualities of new developments/ buildings that are or are not acceptable to the community in our ‘place’.
Given also the transformational effect on the ‘place’ of Leith of (1) ever accelerating large-scale development on brownfield sites and (2) the installation of the tram line to Newhaven (that cuts through the very heart of Leith, viz. Constitution Street), we feel that there should be a moratorium on permissions for planning applications on significant sites in the area, until the Leith community’s Local Place Plan is further developed. The community should be leading on a master plan for Leith – not just the local authority and commercial developers.
Land Reform Act – Guidance from Scottish Government Ministers
The Scottish Land Commission is keen to develop a clear picture of how the Land Reform agenda is – or should/could be – applied in the urban context. The guidance published by Scottish Government ministers requires that ‘significant landowners’ should be ‘engaging with the community’ to discuss long-term plans for the area. The current applicant/development group is a perfect example of a ‘significant landowner’ in the urban context. They already own a very significant portion of this part of Leith. But they have thus far not engaged with the community, although efforts are ongoing to arrange a meeting.
The extended range of their guest-house establishments, much used by City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) in providing temporary accommodation to homeless people, already pushes the level of such accommodation to a point that the City Council itself acknowledges has reached “overprovision” status in Leith.
The applicants are well known, and there is considerable concern locally about their business model, enabled by the city council, and about the possible effects this proposal could have on what is a mixed-use, socially diverse, vibrant, historically rich and substantially cohesive neighbourhood.
The owner/applicant group already owns a number of properties fringing these sites, along John’s Place to the east and at 130 Constitution St to the west, giving it a sort of “mine seam” of holdings pretty much all of which seem destined for temporary accommodation. And we suggest that this proposed expansion and concentration of the same amounts almost to a ‘monopoly’ that would inevitably be detrimental to the local community and neighbourhood.
Some see this proposed development as a kind of AirB’n’B ruse, ultimately designed for tourist visitors; others see it as a bet-hedging ‘variable needs’ facility amenable to a reversion to the company’s default local offering of accommodation for the homeless. And there is a discrepancy between what is said in the application form and the Design and Access statement as to what this proposed accommodation would actually be used for.
But, either way, as the local community council we would ask, is this what this particular area needs right now, or indeed at any point in the future, bang on the line of the extended tram route, hard by one of the city’s most architecturally interesting and commercially promising streets?
With Scotland about to take steps to reduce and regulate short-term rentals in key locations, this is not the time to be waving through planning applications that propose more of exactly that.
The applicants have proposed that they be made exempt from including the provision of ‘affordable housing’. At the same time, the developer is proposing to provide no parking spaces for residents (not even disabled parking), and proposing to pay no tram costs to CEC (despite the likelihood that the tram running right outside the development will increase the rentable and saleable value of the property).
We think there is no justification for this. The developers are seeking to minimise costs and maximise profits, to the penalty of the council and its tax payers, as well as to the neighbourhood and, arguably, the eventual tenants of the development itself.
As LLCC is objecting to this application, in the event that planners recommend it for approval, the application would have to go before the Development Management Sub-
Committee, and were this to happen we would strongly petition elected city councillors on the sub-committee to make a site visit to see for themselves what is at stake here, and at issue.
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