King’s Stables Road Yard Proposed Development, Planning Application. 15/05715/FUL

PLANNING BRIEFING NOTES FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS

This application raises a number of planning issues about the redevelopment of this part of the Old Town, in particular its minimal provision of new housing. In addition it raises management and security issues in the proposed new public open space in the courtyard behind the retained tenements. Although there has been some positive progress since the first proposals were exhibited last summer, such as the inclusion of the "Silk" night club, and the small increase in the number of houses, it still represents an overly dense development which contravenes many of the recommendations of the Kings Stables Rd. Development Brief.1. A FLAWED

PROCESS: In 2009 the City of Edinburgh Council produced an exemplary West Port/King’s Stables Road Development Brief for the current site and Argyle House, following a series of workshops with local residents and stakeholders. The draft brief agreed by the stakeholders stressed the need for new housing together with ancillary commercial uses and the possibility of student housing and a small hotel. The final brief approved by the Council in May 2010 included a large hotel and student housing (believed to be due to pressure from the owners of Argyle House).

When marketing the current site alone, the Council provided supplementary design principles to be read with the West Port/King’s Stables Road Development Brief. These stated that development of this smaller site must not compromise the redevelopment of the entire brief area and must comply with the Development Brief for the larger site.

This is the key issue. The KSR/Argyle House Development brief has been sliced up, allocating both the hotel and the student housing to KSR Yard. To keep the overall balance of uses for the whole site this implies that the housing element of the brief is to be accommodated on (or in) Argyle house. This seems highly unlikely. Almost by definition the proposed development of KSR Yard "compromises" the entire site. If the City Council is serious about controlling the redevelopment of this part of the town they should have insisted that a new separate brief was drawn up for the KSR Yard area alone.

2.  THIS RESULTS IN A FLAWED BRIEF

As a result of this disregard of the agreed planning brief, the proposals in the current application represent a gross over-development of the site, driven by maximising commercial income (for both developer and the City). We have another hotel and yet more student housing occupying a site which was very suitable and appropriate for more badly needed  housing in the Old Town.

The addition of the night club site has enabled the hotel and student housing to be shifted Westwards until it lies in front of Argyle House, which in turn has encouraged the architects to raise the student housing to 8 storeys, possibly on the pretext of hiding Argyle House from the Castle. Whilst that may be visually desirable, this hulking building, blocking the view as one emerges from the tunnel under Johnston Terrace, may discourage visitors from walking along to the Grassmaket. Rather than getting an encouraging taste of the scale and character of the Grassmarket, visitors will assume they are entering a commercial district. The bland commercial-type architecture will reinforce that impression.

In the South West corner of the site a 5 storey block is planned, 3 storeys of small flats over 2 storeys of artists' workshops. This will be appreciably higher than current industrial shed and will obstruct the view of the Castle for residents in Portsburgh Square, and extend the shadowed area at  the East end of the courtyard.
The slight increase in the housing provision is welcome, but of the 28 new dwellings 14 are studio flats i.e. with no separation between bedroom and living/cooking space. The remainder have 1 bedroom. With the normal Council requirement for 25% affordable housing this may entail a minimum of 7 flats being be acquired and managed by a Housing Association.  I'm taking advice about the feasibility of this. The access arrangements, with all housing being approached via the courtyard, suggests that the developer may envisage the houses being owned or operated as holiday lets, perhaps linked to the hotel. Before proceeding further with this application the developer must clarify the design, ownership and management of the housing. Overall the provision of such small flats, especially the studios, will do nothing to encourage more long-term residents in to the Old Town.  

3. FLAWED MANAGEMENT AND SECURITY

The residents of the 3 retained tenements will have a rough time both during construction and possibly after the completion of the scheme. The existing empty ground floors of the tenements will be acquired by the developer and converted to commercial uses, presumably catering or retail. It is accepted this could help to enliven an otherwise dreary street (especially blighted for the last 10 years by the scaffolded premises at 18-20 KSR).

This conversion will involve structural alterations at ground floor level to enlarge window and door openings, and some shifting of internal walls. There will also be extensive work to the West gable of 17 KSR, and will include alterations to the existing drainage and other services; all this together with the normal disruption of living on a building site. I suggest the current owners of the tenements may need joint legal representation to minimise these problems. They should also ensure that the common burdens in the tenement deeds in respect of repairs and maintenance will apply equally to the owners of the ground floor commercial premises.

On completion, the development will involve the existing owners in management and security issues from the shared courtyard behind them, which, as currently proposed, will be the only access to 28 new houses, the artists' workshops and will accommodate outdoor seating for ground floor cafes and the hotel. In addition the courtyard will allow through public access for pedestrians as part of the "permeable" planning requirement, in particular a new access route from West Port down the steps in Chapel Wynd and through the East end of the courtyard under the pend at 8 KSR.

The current planning application does not acknowledge the need for this courtyard to be effectively managed to allow for these different activities, and to provide security and protection from disturbance for both the new houses and the occupants of the retained tenements (despite this issue being brought to their attention during the Pre-planning Application process).

TO SUM UP; THIS IS BOTH AN OVER-CROWDED DEVELOPMENT OF A SENSITIVE SITE JUST BELOW THE CASTLE, AND A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE MORE LOCAL HOUSING.