Category A-listed former Scottish Widows HQ
Posted on: October 19, 2022
The quality of any new development must respond to the site in the same way that the listed building does and be of matching quality and scale. In this regard to the proposals require significant modification before they can be acceptable.
Address: 15 Dalkeith Road Edinburgh EH16 5BH
Proposal: Selective demolition, adaptation, extension and upgrading of Class 4 office building, demolition of car park and ancillary buildings and proposed development of residential accommodation with associated landscaping, parking and infrastructure.
Ref No: 22/04766/FUL and 22/04768/LBC
Closing date for comments: Frid 05 May 2023
Determination date: Sat 21 Jan 2023
The Association has studied the plans for the redevelopment on this Category A-listed building which involves the partial demolition and construction of new housing. We thank the developers and their architects for facilitating a site visit as part of the early phases of development.
We appreciate the significant challenges that this building, and this site, presents. It also represents a major opportunity to reinvigorate the site and make it fit for purpose and we can see merit in the approach adopted.
However, in considering the totality of the development, we have concluded that there are sufficient deficiencies with the scheme for us to lodge a formal objection to it. These concentrate mostly on the redeveloped sections of the site. We feel that a scheme for the partial demolition and renovation of this site is possible. But such a scheme would be a radical departure for what is currently being proposed.
We appreciate that the proposals would involve the demolition of a significant portion on a Category A-listed building. This is contrary to a range of policies including Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas – Section 59 (1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Action 1997, Section 64 (1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland), Action 1997, NPF4 Policy 7 c), NPF4 Policy d) and Local Development Plan policies ENV2, ENV3 and ENV4. However, we accept that without significant interventions to the site, the buildings will have little ongoing economic or use value, largely due to its unique form and construction.
As such, we are willing to accept the proposed demolitions of sections of the main building subject to certain pre-conditions being met. The acceptance of the scale of demolition being proposed is dependent on the quality and design of the new structure or structures proposed as replacements for demolished sections of A-listed original structures… In this regard, we have considerable concerns regarding the scale, materiality and massing of the proposed new housing, which serious affects the context of the site.
The iconic visual imaging of the buildings comes from two main viewpoints, in our view. The first is from Dalkeith Road where the layering of the hexagonal forms with the reflection pools is most dominant. The proposals preserve this aspect, which is to be welcomed.
Second, is the view looking down on the buildings from Holyrood Park. This best illustrates the important landscape setting and planting scheme at the eastern edge, which contrasts with the harder architectural forms on Dalkeith Road. There is no doubt that the current proposals are a change in the context and the impact is negative due to the scale, materiality and massing on the new housing blocks.
Also important is the view glimpsed from Dalkeith Road down Parkside Terrace to the Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. The ability to see over the top of the current buildings and view the Park is an important part of the context and unique character of this part of Edinburgh. As we understand it, the original building was designed as to exploit this prospect. The large housing blocks up to 7+ storeys high serious affects this visual relationship to the extent that Arthur’s Seat is no longer visible. We find this a negative aspect of the development and regard it as unacceptable.
Architectural interventions –
Overall, in accepting the concept of partial demolition, we find the solution to the refurbishment of the remaining Spence building acceptable and supportable. The introduction on new “light wells” will help with the deficiency of light penetration and will not materially affect the character of the listed building. We also welcome proposals to refurbish the landscaping associated with the building as an integral part of its landscape setting. The restoration of the reflecting pool is particularly welcome.
New development –
We support the creation of new housing here, but have considerable concerns regarding the proposals form, materiality, scale and massing. The attempt to use the strong geometric forms as a guiding layout principle is interesting but unconvincing. It creates a confusion between “back” and “front” with no clearly discernible distinction between public and private spaces. The proximity of footpaths to ground floor dwellings is also a concern with potentially significant impact on amenity and overlooking.
We believe that substantial modifications need to be made to make the new elements acceptable. A reduction in height would help ameliorate the visual impact especially on the northern parts of the site on Parkside Terrace. This might be achieved by reducing the height on the perimeter with slightly higher sections in the centre of the site. The existing buildings also step down towards Holyrood Park – a continuation of this approach with any new development would also reduce the visual impact
The “blockiness” in terms of materiality and fenestration pattern of the L-shaped buildings accentuates their impact. Breaking up the elevations and avoiding competition with the retained Scottish Widows building would be advisable. Also, whilst we appreciate the use of green roof technology, a varied planting programme would help breakdown the massing as seen from above.
It is commendable that the developer is proposing that 35% of all housing will be affordable as this reflects the growing need for this form of housing and corresponds with the proposed change from the current 25% requirement in the next City Development Plan.
The Affordable Housing Statement included in the planning application highlights that negotiations are ongoing with one provider of affordable housing, namely Places for People Group (PfP). While the precise tenure split of this affordable housing is not specified, it is disappointing that this statement fails to acknowledge that the greatest outstanding need and demand in Edinburgh is for new additional social housing in the City as most recently highlighted by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission.
It is also concerning that the developer states that there is a significant gap between the costs of construction and the available capital grant (Housing Association Grant – HAG – in this case). If the size of this gap continues there is some considerable risk that the developer and PfP will provide very little if indeed any social housing at all on this site and instead seek to provide other forms of affordable housing including mid-market rent and/or low-cost home ownership forms and which this housing provider has a track record of providing much more frequently than new social housing in the past.
This situation highlights yet further evidence of the significantly inadequate levels and volumes of HAG being made available to social landlords operating in the city, making it ever more difficult to meet the most acute need for social housing and creating the desired, sustainable mixed tenure neighbourhoods of the future.
The Cockburn acknowledges the significant challenges that this site presents. The Scottish Widows building by one of Scotland’s most influential modern architects, Basil Spence, merits its Category A-listing as a building of national and international standing. It is also a building with major deficiencies in terms of usability and functionality. In ideal circumstances, we would prefer the entirety of the building to retained and refurbished but we can accept the loss of part of it to facilitate a new lease of life for a large portion of it fronting Dalkeith Road, which we feel is the most important section of the building. The quality of any new development must respond to the site in the same way that the listed building does and be of matching quality and scale. In this regard to the proposals require significant modification before they can be acceptable.