Installation of venues in George Square Gardens

Posted on: May 20, 2022

We have offered a NEUTRAL comment on this application as there are certain planning conditions we would like to see attached before permission is granted.

Address: George Square Gardens, George Square, Edinburgh

Proposal: Permission and change of use sought for installation of two temporary performance venues and various supporting infrastructure. 

Reference No: 22/01893/FUL

Closing date for comments: 27 May 2022 

Determination date: 24 June 2022

Result: Pending 

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn Association has considered these plans for the use of the George Square Gardens as a Fringe venue by Assembly Festival Ltd.  We acknowledge the fact that the applicant has erected similar infrastructure on this site in previous years. We also acknowledge that George Square Gardens in not a publicly-owned open space per se but it does function of one.    

The Cockburn is also aware that, with the exception of last year (2021), no planning consent has ever been sought for operations in George Square Gardens despite it being a very clear Change of Use to Class 11 (Assembly and Leisure).  As such, the past history of occupation should not be taken as a material consideration in this application and should be given minimal weight.  

Whilst we do not object to this application, we feel that it would be inappropriate at this stage to grant consent for 3 years, as requested.  We feel that proposed arrangements for tree safety are inadequate, and the requirement for a Noise Impact Study, which we understand the Council have asked for, should be available before any consent is considered.  A full and proper independent monitoring regime should be put in place as a planning condition, and the outcome of this should be used to consider if consent should be considered in future years.   

 The Cockburn has advocated that soft surfaced areas such as parks and gardens should not be used for infrastructure-heavy events due to the damage they cause to the ground and to the loss of essential public amenity space, even for relatively short periods of time.  We are very concerned with the impact to the trees in the Square due to the proximity of the large tented structure, hospitality kiosks and related infrastructure to the trees, resulting in potential damage to the root systems.  Local Development Plan Policy ENV12 on Trees states “Development will not be permitted if likely to have a damaging impact on a tree protected by a Tree Preservation Order or on any other tree or woodland worthy of retention unless necessary for good arboricultural reasons. Where such permission is granted, replacement planting of appropriate species and numbers will be required to offset the loss to amenity.”  The develop is likely to have a damaging impact on the root systems of trees in the Square and is therefore inconsistent with this policy.   

The submitted tree safety plan is not adequate or comprehensive.  For example, the protection of root systems needs to extend well beyond the canopy, which in many instances does not.  We are also very concerned with the selective use of tree protection zones on the site.  None of trees along the perimeter of the gardens are proposed for a protection zone despite the very heavy and damaging infrastructure proposed, which included chiller units, water tanks, toilets, site cabins, etc.  

The Cockburn strongly advises that all trees are properly protected from damage and root compression and the applicant must submit a revised protection plan to this effective.   

We can see no plausible reason why most of the infrastructure could not be placed around the Square, reserving the more open section for the large-tented structure if absolutely necessary.  This would reduce the impact on the soft-surfaces and trees in the Square considerably.  

As such, we advocate a number of amendments before this application can be acceptable.  In summary, these include: tree protection arrangements for all trees and not just those in the middle section of the gardens; removal of ancillary infrastructure from the gardens to the hardstanding area surrounding the gardens; and the delivery of a noise impact study as part of the publicly available information with this application.  Also, we advise that consent be given for one year only, with suitable monitoring arrangements in place.