Proposed relaxation of local planning controls

POSTED ON May 19, 2021

Our suggestions for Edinburgh’s Planning Committee as it meets to decide whether to relax planning controls.

We have written to members of the City of Edinburgh Council’s Planning Committee who are meeting today to decide, among other items, upon a recommendation from the Director of Place that they approve “a more relaxed approach to the planning control in relation to festival installations in order to facilitate the festivals during the coronavirus emergency.”

We have great sympathy for local businesses who have been hardest hit by the lockdown restrictions.  We agree that it is essential for the local economy get back on its feet and to get the iconic Festivals back in operation.  Liberalising planning control (and by extension other regulatory processes such as licensing) will be welcomed by some, no doubt, as part of this.  However, short-term fixes tend to have long-term consequences.  In this, we are concerned that lower standards of management or turning a blind eye to developments that normally would be unacceptable carries with it unforeseen risks.

The Cockburn is aware of the various communications from the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner.  We accept the direction of travel, and offer these comments which we hope will be seen as positive suggestions for improving the proposals.

First and foremost, we appeal to the Committee to ensure that the local community is not cut out of this process.  It is they who might end up living with the consequences of such relaxations well beyond the intended period of recovery.  As such, we advocate some sort of short-cut consultation with Community Councils to ensure at least some local civic/community oversight.

Secondly, we suggest that a firm time limit for review of such relaxations be put in place.  The Scottish Government expressly supports “planning authorities to exercise their discretion and allow for temporary breaches of planning control that are reasonable in the current difficult circumstances” [our emphasis].  Temporary suggests an expectation that enforcement of such breaches is expected in the future post-recovery.

Thirdly, in terms of the recommended criteria, which are generally supportable, we suggest the following:

  • In para 4.1.1, change “excluding” to “including” in order to align with criteria in para 4.1.3 (which includes take up and drop down time) and to align to the General Permitted Development Order (para 3.9 of the paper).
  • In 4.1.2 – we would suggest some concession to residential amenity and impact, so possibly for 4.1.2, “where a change of use and associated structures would be near residential properties and may cause some disturbance….”.
  • From our perspective, the issue of no history of festival use is a potential issue.  In some limited research that we’ve done, some sites do not appear to have planning consents in place despite repeated Festival or event use – e.g. George Square or Bristo Place.  Thus, the phrase “and where there is no history of the same space being used for similar festival activities” should be amended to “and where there is no evidence of a formal consent for use in the past for similar festival activities.”

Finally, the Cockburn has no objection to the three specific proposals in the paper.  However, we note in one (The Old Quad) that there are significant heritage issues and we can find no guidance on the implications of such relaxations on Listed Building Consent.


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