Commercial Hospitality Space at 23 Elm Row

Posted on: December 7, 2021

Our comments objecting to a proposal to erect a wooden gazebo structure and decked area on the public footpath at Elm Row.

Address: 23 Elm Row, Edinburgh, EH7 4AA  

Proposal: Application to erect a timber roofed structure and decking for seating on public pavement.   

Reference No: 21/05858/FUL   

Closing date for comments: 10 December 2021   

Determination date: 31 December 2021   

Result: Pending

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn has considered this application and would wish to OBJECT to it on the grounds that it would involve the quasi-privatisation of public urban space; would affect the wider amenity of neighbouring residents and businesses; is poorly designed in the context of the specific location and negatively impacts on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. 

We have no objection to the current tabling licensing system in place, whereby a small number of tables are placed discretely beside the operator’s premises.  Licensing conditions require tables and chairs to be removed each evening, restoring the area back to unfettered public use.  This flexible and temporary system works well. 

Our concern lies with the erection of a permanent structure, which would effectively privatise in the region of two-thirds of the current public space available to this business into its control.

It is important to recognise that the possible cumulative impact if other neighbouring businesses seeking to do the same. 

We set out our general and detailed views on this type of development in greater detail below.

Overall context – The Cockburn has outlined general concerns about the proliferation of outdoor seating developments on numerous occasions but notes the context of Covid and Covid recovery for hospitality businesses. We continue to sympathise with businesses who have struggled during the enforced lockdown period. However, with the ongoing easing of Covid restrictions, the reasoning for such relaxation of licensing and planning restrictions is also diminishing. Where on-street out-door eating and drinking installations have already been put in place under a relaxation of planning restrictions, we understand that the temporary arrangement for such provisions is coming to an end. 

We are not surprised that some traders wish to retain structures that are already in place and that other traders are coming forward with applications for entirely new structure. This increases the number of covers available and with the current uncertainty of Covid and government guidance, provides a basis for continued, safe operations. 

Need for unified, design-led approach – Edinburgh Street Design Guidance is largely silent on these outdoor seating areas although many broader principles apply including the need to reduce street clutter and the importance of uncongested, clear from obstruction pedestrian zones.

The Cockburn believes that interventions into Edinburgh’s streetscape, especially within Conservation Areas across the city, must be unified (i.e., consistent across a wider area), design-led and developed in such a manner as to enhance the character of streets. It should not be left to individual businesses to create their own visions for the public realm.

A revised and updated policy framework is required that takes on board all the City of Edinburgh’s Council’s pledges and commitments. 

Street Clutter – At a recent meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council, Councillors reaffirmed their support for Transport for All’s Equal Pavements Pledge. This acknowledges that being able to move around the urban environment freely is a right that should be allowed to all those who live in, work in and visit Edinburgh, including those with complex needs. Outdoor seating areas such as that proposed here complicates the facilitation of free and unfettered access across the city. 

We note the abolition of A-board across the city as an example of the Council’s commitment to free access. 

Privatisation/Appropriation of public space – The Cockburn has frequently voiced its concern about the ongoing privatisation of public spaces across the city. We have spoken out against the trend of the City of Edinburgh Council increasingly using the city’s existing public spaces, parks and green spaces to raise funds, by making their land available to private companies who charge for ticketed events and restrict access to parks and green spaces for extended periods. 

We are not against all use of public and quasi-public spaces, particularly parks and greenspaces, for events and associated activities. But such events and pop-ups for al fresco dining and drinking, including those on and in association with streets, must be assessed and open for review and comment within a relevant and up-to-date policy framework. Edinburgh lack such a policy framework currently.

Wider Amenity Impacts – We note that at recent meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council councillors agreed that the Council would write to the Scottish Government to ask for powers to deal with problems associated amplified busking and street entertainment across the city and to facilitate the engagement of residents who are concerned about related noise disturbances. 

This suggests that the policy and practice framework relating to the consideration of noise from on-street eating and drinking installations is likely to be subject to change and be the subject of restriction in the near term, certainly that the Council is minded to take a more restrictive view of actions, activities and potential sources of street noise such as on-street eating and drinking facilities.

Assessment of outdoor seating against current LDP policies – Notwithstanding the comments above, it is our view the city’s current planning policy framework does not support on-street al fresco dining and drinking as uncoordinated individual planning applications.   

In our view, the proposals are not consistent with  Policy ENV 6 – Conservation Areas (Development), Policy ENV18 Open Space Protection, Policy Del 2 City Centre – Development, Policy Des 1 Design Quality, Policy Des 5 Development Design – Amenity,  and Policy Des 8 Public Realm and Landscape Design.

For completeness, we have no objections to the current table licensing arrangements subject to the adherence of the guidelines associated with any specific licencing conditions.