Commercial Hospitality Space at 231 High Street
Posted on: November 23, 2021
Our comments on proposed outdoor seating platform on the Royal Mile
Address: 231 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1PE
The Cockburn objects to this application 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.
The platform area extends to approximately the centre line of the existing street making access to service vehicles and pedestrians complex and difficult. Its permanent location would have a material impact on the usability of the High Street during peak Festival times and would establish a precedent for the appropriation of this most important civic space for a private commercial business.
It is important to recognise that the impact on this location is potentially increased by other neighbouring businesses seeking to do the same. The cumulative impact of similar proposals needs to be considered first and foremost and whilst we accept that an individual applicant is only concerned with their proposal, the potential total impact is significantly greater on a streetscape level.
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 outdoor 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.
Existing tabling licensed areas – 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. The addition of a separate platform placed apart from the licensed area causes additional concerns with the need for service staff to cross through pedestrian areas to service the extension. In some instances, especially where the separating space is small, this creates not along a significant impediment to pedestrian flow but creates a psychological barrier as well, suggesting that the public are crossing an area of semi-private space.
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.
If outdoors seating extensions are to be acceptable, streets with site specific challenges like Cockburn Street with its sloping topography, busy footfalls and parking and servicing challenges require a bespoke solution which all proprietors would need to conform and which would need to respond to the total streetscape environment, not just what is outside a businesses’ door. The amenity and welling-being of residents must be respected.
Street Clutter – At a full meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council councillors recently 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 furniture for al fresco dining has only further complicated 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 lacks 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.