Commercial Hospitality Space at 34 Cockburn Street

Posted on: December 7, 2021

Our comments on an application seeking to permit construction of a private commercial structure on publicly-owned Common Good land

Address: 34 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1PB 

ProposalPlanning permission is sought for outdoor seating area comprising of timber platform and fence with clear polycarbonate roof for shelter. 

Reference No: 21/06159/FUL 

Closing date for comments: 24 December 2021 

Determination date: 21 January 2022 

Result: Pending 

Cockburn Response

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 into the existing street making access to service vehicles and pedestrians complex and difficult. The existing table licensing area (to which we have no objection) compounds this issue, making the pavement narrow, affecting pedestrian flow.  We also note that the development, which has been erected, has timber panels erected to the height of the roof, meaning that the drawings do not reflect what has actually been built. 

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 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. 

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-boards 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. 

Policy ENV 6 – Conservation Areas (Development) – 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 b) preserves trees, hedges, boundary walls, railings, paving and other features which contribute positively to the character of the area and c) demonstrates high standards of design and utilises materials appropriate to the historic environment.

Cockburn view – the use of timber decking material and the associated fencing undermines the character of the area and does damage to the visual integrity of the street.  The creation is enclosures with associated fences undermines the open character of the High Street, the historic marketplace for the city. The attempt to create a level platform on a sloping surface further exacerbates this incongruity. We note that the existing “shop-side” tabling noted in the application simply places tables and chairs on the sloping pavement. The proposals fail to preserve the main feature within contributes to character of the area, namely to the sloping street and does not demonstrate a high standard of design.

Policy ENV18 Open Space Protection – Proposals involving the loss of open space will not be permitted unless it is demonstrated that: a) there will be no significant impact on the quality or character of the local environment and b) the open space is a small part of a larger area or of limited amenity or leisure value and there is a significant over-provision of open space serving the immediate area and c) the loss would not be detrimental to the wider network including its continuity or biodiversity value and either there will be a local benefit in allowing the development in terms of either alternative equivalent provision being made or improvement to an existing public park or other open space or e) the development is for a community purpose and the benefits to the local community outweigh the loss.

Cockburn view – Fundamentally, streets are open spaces with the city. The proposed use as an outdoor extension of a pub or restaurant is not public use, although we can appreciate the ambience and vibrancy that a café culture can bring to areas. This emphasises the need for a civic design plan that goes beyond the interests and boundaries of individual businesses.

Policy Del 2 City Centre – Development which lies within the area of the City Centre as shown on the Proposals Map will be permitted which retains and enhances its character, attractiveness, vitality, and accessibility and contributes to its role as a strategic business and regional shopping centre and Edinburgh’s role as a capital city. The requirements in principle will be for:

a) comprehensively designed proposals which maximise the potential of the site in accordance with any relevant development principles, development brief and/or other guidance
b) a use or a mix of uses appropriate to the location of the site, its accessibility characteristics and the character of the surrounding area.
c) Where practicable, major mixed-use developments should provide offices, particularly on upper floors. At street level, other uses may be more appropriate to maintain city centre diversity, especially retail vitality on important shopping frontages.
d) the creation of new civic spaces and traffic-free pedestrian routes where achievable.

Cockburn view – It is our view that none of the al fresco drinking and dining installations which have come forward in recent month and which continue to proliferate across the city centre can be said to maintain and enhance the character of the city centre. All applications coming forward should clearly demonstrate how, if granted planning permission, their proposed installations would add to the quality and character of the centre.

Policy Des 1 Design Quality and Context – Planning permission will be granted for development where it is demonstrated that the proposal will create or contribute towards a sense of place. Design should be based on an overall design concept that draws upon positive characteristics of the surrounding area. Planning permission will not be granted for poor quality or inappropriate design or for proposals that would be damaging to the character or appearance of the area around it, particularly where this has a special importance.

Cockburn view -All applications coming forward should clearly demonstrate how, if granted planning permission, their proposed installations would create or contribute towards a sense of place. It is not clear to us how any of the installations which we have seen coming forward actually achieve this. The positive additional character benefits from proposals should be clearly demonstrated.

Policy Des 5 Development Design – Amenity – Planning permission will be granted for development where it is demonstrated that:
a) the amenity of neighbouring developments is not adversely affected and that future occupiers have acceptable levels of amenity in relation to noise, daylight, sunlight, privacy or immediate outlook.
b) the design will facilitate adaptability in the future to the needs of different occupiers, and in appropriate locations will promote opportunities for mixed uses.
c) community security will be promoted by providing active frontages to more important thoroughfares and designing for natural surveillance over all footpaths and open areas.
d) a clear distinction is made between public and private spaces, with the latter provided in enclosed or defensible forms.
e) refuse and recycling facilities, cycle storage, low and zero carbon technology, telecommunications equipment, plant and services have been sensitively integrated into the design.

Cockburn view – All al fresco drinking, and dining proposals should clearly demonstrate that they do not adversely impact upon the amenity of their neighbours. Residents and other local business must have their rights to amenity and well-being respected. Again, we highlight the Council’s expressed wish to curtain acoustic pollution and to facilitate the engagement of residents on this issue.

Policy Des 8 Public Realm and Landscape Design – Planning permission will be granted for development where all external spaces, and features, including streets, footpaths, civic spaces, green spaces boundary treatments and public art have been designed as an integral part of the scheme as a whole, and it has been demonstrated that:
a) the design and the materials to be used are appropriate for their intended purpose, to the use and character of the area generally, especially where this has a special interest or importance.
b) the different elements of paving, landscaping and street furniture are coordinated to avoid a sense of clutter, and in larger schemes design and provision will be coordinated over different phases of a development.
c) particular consideration has been given, if appropriate, to the planting of trees to provide a setting for buildings, boundaries and roadsides and create a robust landscape structure.
d) a satisfactory scheme of maintenance will be put in place.

Cockburn view – It is difficult to understand how potential negative impacts arising for proposed on-street installations can be mitigated or avoided in the absence of a relevant policy framework, monitoring regime and enforcement structure. Again, we highlight the Council’s commitment to providing safe, accessible streets and walkways for City residents, workers, and visitors.