Demolition of building and proposed student accommodation – Gillespie Crescent

Posted on: December 14, 2023

The Cockburn advises that the proposals do not met the tests of Local Development Plan Policy ENV 6

Address: 50 Gillespie Crescent Edinburgh EH10 4JB

Proposal:  Demolition of existing building and erection of purpose-built student accommodation and associated amenity space, landscaping, and infrastructure. | 50 Gillespie Crescent Edinburgh EH10 4JB

Reference No: 23/06623/FUL

Closing date for comments: Fri 29 Dec 2023

Determination date: Fri 29 Dec 2023

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn Association would like to object to this proposal to demolish the former Royal Blind Asylum and erect a Purpose-built Student accommodation development in its place.

We have objected separately to the Conservation Area Consent application, but as explained in that, we expand on the policy reasons for objection to demolition here.

Firstly, regarding the PBSA scheme itself, the proposals offer little in the way of quality architectural expression. The horizontal emphasis of the fenestration is in stark contrast to the depth and vertically of the Victorian buildings opposite, and the attempt to create a “top-middle-and-bottom” in elevational treatment is weak, particularly so with upper floor’s change in material to metal cladding, which does not provide a suitable articulation of a roofscape.

The cellular nature of the proposals and complete dominance of studio accommodations offers little in the resilience and futureproofing, should there be a decline in the market for this type of accommodation. We strongly advocate a move away from such layouts to a cluster flat arrangement, with the ability of building to revert to more traditional flatted accommodation if necessary.

The proposals offer little in the way of effective green or open space, with the majority taken up by circulation space or rather meaningless pockets of planting, which will contribute little to amenity or biodiversity.

As such, the Cockburn advises that the proposals do not met the tests of Local Development Plan Policy ENV 6 on the grounds that the scheme does not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Conservation Area; it results in the loss of “open-ness” with the loss of space that is currently undeveloped, reinforcing the impact to the character of the area; and finally, does not demonstrate high standards of design.

We also have some concerns with amenity impacts that will result from the intensification of use of this site as a PBSA scheme. This is especially the case for those tenements on Bruntsfield Place which back onto the site. The pattern of use will be sufficiently different with increased activity where the cycle store and small garden spaces are located.

Conservation Area Impact
As we indicated in our objection to the related Conservation Area Consent application, the proposals do not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of this conservation due to the significant impact on the single aspect of the street which strongly characterises the crescent. The Marchmont, Meadows and Bruntsfield Conservation Area Character Appraisal notes in that the Bruntsfield area’s essential character (which includes Gillespie Crescent) is Bruntsfield Place and its tenements; a rectangular grid with interesting loops and culs-de-sac; and a number of interesting views amongst other characteristics. The view south along Gillespie Crescent to Pilkington’s Bruntsfield Barclay church is one of these.

Local Development Plan policy Env 5 Conservation Areas – Demolition of Buildings states, “Proposals for the demolition of an unlisted building within a conservation area but which is considered to make a positive contribution to the character of the area will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and after taking into account the considerations set out in Policy Env 2 above [our emphasis]. Policy Env 2 Listed Buildings – Demolition sets out three tests for demolition, which are to be applied in this instance as the building provides a positive contribution to the character of the Conservation Area, which we set out below. Proposals for the total or substantial demolition of a listed building will only be supported in exceptional circumstances, taking into account:

a) the condition of the building and the cost of repairing and maintaining it in relation to its importance and to the value to be derived from its continued use

b) the adequacy of efforts to retain the building in, or adapt it to, a use that will safeguard its future, including its marketing at a price reflecting its location and condition to potential restoring purchasers for a reasonable period.

c) the merits of alternative proposals for the site and whether the public benefits to be derived from allowing demolition to outweigh the loss.

It is our view that the former Royal Blind Asylum Offices makes a positive contribution to the character of the Conservation Area, which we note is also the position of Historic Environment Scotland in its advice to the planning authority. The low-lying nature of the building helps emphasis the single aspect of Gillespie Crescent, a particular feature of this part of the area. The setback of the Viewforth Housing Association flats from the crescent respects this characteristic whereas the current proposals affect the southern part of the crescent in a negative manner – ie shifting the emphasis from a single to dual aspect street. This is particular acute on views south towards Barclay Bruntsfield church. The Heritage Statement submitted with the application illustrates very appropriately that Gilliespie’s Hospital/Royal Blind Asylum buildings countered the hard urban edge of the Crescent with a “buildings in landscape” approach, set back from the street so thereby creating a soft urban edge. The proposals undermine this characteristic.

No exceptional circumstances have been presented by the developers to justify demolition. We accept that an economic case for redevelopment can be made, but this does not amount to exceptional reasons. We also accept that there are remedial repairs required to the existing building but do not believe that these justify demolition. In addition, there is no evidence that adequate effort to secure a new use for the building or other efforts to safeguard its future has been made. For the avoidance of doubt, we do not accept that a PBSA here could be considered a public benefit per se.


The Cockburn Association has considered the development fully. We feel that the proposals to redevelopment this site fail policies ENV6 and ENV2 respectively. For these reasons along, the application should be refused.

We also believe that the replacement PBSA block is significantly deficient in suitable architectural expression and quality and does not represent a suitable replacement building in this part of the Conservation Area. It does harm and damage to it, thereby failing the statutory obligations of section 64 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas)(Scotland) Act 1997.