Like John McGurk, I watched the Planning Committee debacle online whilst on holiday and was appalled at the dismissive comments made by its Vice Convenor, Councillor Alex Lunn.
As a long term Grassmarket resident who loves living in our beautiful Old Town, I was one of the 240 formal objectors and 2000+ signatories to an on-line petition, who opposed this greedy overdevelopment of a 225 hotel, as being far too large for the tight and constrained site in its proposed form.
Yet Councillor Lunn – as Vice Convenor of the Planning Committee – dismissed these as immaterial:
“I’ve got to commend the amount of people who’ve taken the time to write to all of us… it’s something in a lot of planning applications we don’t see but I do think that it’s best to put things into context here.
“I’ve just asked for the number of objections… we have 105 objections to scheme 1 and 135 objections to scheme 2.
“Being realistic, the electorate of the city centre ward is nearly 14,000, that’s an incredibly small number of objections!”
What? Over 2,400 objections, when you include the 2000+ on the petition (whose author wasn’t allowed to speak at the committee)!
I took the time (considerable) and the effort (significant) given the complexity of 100s of drawings and reports, that were continually updated as they had been lodged incomplete by the developers, which myself and others had to plough through as laypersons, to engage in an informed and engaged way in the formal planning procedures.
In this process our community successfully lobbied our elected representatives at all levels and convinced our three local cross-party councillors, our then MSP and our current MP to support us – because like us they too were keen to see the gap-site behind India Buildings and Victoria Street down to the Cowgate developed, but with increased community gain, and saw this as a hugely missed opportunity to have a diversified, genuinely mixed development, that would improve the area for residents and visitors alike.
In opposing the development in its proposed form, Councillor Nigel Bagshaw retorted:
“As for local objections, Councillor Lunn was very dismissive. I think we should remember the turnout for local elections is only 40%, with Councillors getting elected on 6% of that 40%. We’re on dangerous territory, so I suggest that you don’t want to go there again in future!”
It ill beholds a senior Councillor like Councillor Lunn, who has considerable weight on the Planning Committee as its Vice-Convenor, to dismiss electors’ views so roundly.
His comments call into question the entire transparency of the labyrinthine planning process as somehow irrelevant, if objections are thus dismissed and councillors can push through 8 to 6 such a major development with unanswered infrastructure consequences despite the pleas of their elected colleagues at all levels, heritage bodies, civic and community organisations and residents.
There may be a political price to pay in the future…
Is this the same committee that has given the go-ahead for the silly, twirly, cup-cake of a building behind Register House (which just happens to be one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere)?
And the committee that has allowed the boring glass box with golden wings that is appearing in St Andrew Square? (Look how it ruins the view along Rose Street!)
What is it with an Edinburgh Council that has no aesthetic sense whatever, that is incapable of keeping the city centre clean and has allowed our streets to resemble scree on broken hillsides? (But not sure that the vice-convenor’s girth has anything to do with it.)
Dr DUNCAN THOMSON