In the City of the Enlightenment ‘Let there be Light’

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Dear Supporters of the petition “No Confidence in the City of Edinburgh Planning Department”,

A final reminder of the emergency public meeting to discuss the matter of the India Buildings and its major impact on the City in the wider context of speculative ‘development’ putting the reputation of Edinburgh and her World Heritage status at serious risk:

Venue: Grassmarket Community Project – 86 Candlemaker Row, EH1 2QA

Date: Thusday 13th October 2016

Time: 7 – 9pm

Please come if you can to show support, learn more and contribute to the meeting, and do please share the “Let There Be Light” petition with others who may not yet have signed:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/let-there-be-light-in-edinburgh-s-old-town

and the “No Confidence” petition:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/no-confidence-in-the-city-of-edinburgh-planning-department

 

Thank You for your continuing support.

 

Yours for the Love of Edina,

 

Simon Byrom
For those with time and inclination the latest details of this scandalous debacle are:
The local community consider the City of Edinburgh’s Council’s planning report to the Development Management Sub-Committee in relation to the proposed India Buildings hotel application to have been significantly flawed in:

 

  • withholding key information subsequently obtained through FOI requests which would have undoubtedly affected the outcome if the public had faith in the process
  • presenting insufficient, misleading and contradictory information
  • not adequately addressing the many issues of objection.

 

As a major development with considerable implications that will have, contrary to the view of the planning report, a massive impact on both the local community of the integrity of the Old Town Conservation Area and World Heritage Site, in which the local authority has a significant financial interest, this application deserves the highest scrutiny and certainly merits being of “national significance”.

A ‘conflict of interest’ clearly exists and furthermore disposal of significant public assets without any public consultation as to alternative options represents a failure of the Council to honour its coalition promise, having stated that

We… need to recognise that there has been a breakdown in trust between the residents of Edinburgh and their elected representatives on the Council. That relationship needs to be repaired… this new contract with the capital marks a fresh start, with a Council willing to listen to local people and work together with local communities… A council where co-operation, fairness, accountability and responsibility really matter. The City will be able to judge the Council against this promise

Given how sensitive and important the Old Town of Edinburgh is, this matter is of such importance it has the potential to irreparably damage the reputation of Edinburgh and cost the City its highest accolade, the World Heritage status.

Having betrayed Citizens and consistently broken election pledges, the integrity of the Council, and indeed other complicit public bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland and the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, who contend that the proposals do not raise issues of national significance”, and thatthe overall impact of the development on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage Site remains broadly neutral”, is fundamentally in question.

The consistent favour shown to private speculative interests over the primary duty of care in acting solely in the public interest, as defined by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, represents an explicit dereliction of duty, revealing that crippling debt, precipitated by maladministration and the imposition of ‘austerity’, has rendered local government dysfunctional and disgraced.

In consideration of the finer details:

ICOMOS‐UK, the UN body tasked with overseeing the care of World Heritage, considered that the proposed India Buildings hotel is one of seven developments it hasserious concernsabout and concluded that:

…evidence of the potentially negative impacts of cumulative new developments is becoming increasingly apparent. Opinions seem to suggest that too few have reached a level of distinction appropriate for such a distinguished city, and even fewer have contributed in beneficial ways to enhancing the distinctiveness of the World Heritage site. Whilst no objective study exists of the impacts or likely impacts on Outstanding Universal Value, the widespread expressions of concern which have been made known to ICOMOS‐UK convince us that a serious investigation into the cause is merited.

UNESCO holds the government ultimately responsible for the care of World Heritage and warns there is an “ongoing threat” to Edinburgh’s world heritage status, stating:

Regrettably the current situation, including both approved and proposed developments, appears to have tipped the balance inappropriately, away from conservation, towards inappropriate development. There is therefore an urgent need to reconsider, revise and re-frame current approaches to development… so as to deliver greater focus on values, to incorporate appropriate expertise and to improve engagement with the community.”

The director of UNESCO World Heritage, Mechtild Rossler has recently stated:

I would like to express the World Heritage Centre’s strong concern about the state of urban conservation in Edinburgh. The quality and pervasiveness of development projects being pursued without due consideration for conservation is deeply worrying.”

After concerted lobbying local MP Tommy Sheppard has now expressed his own misgivings, listing three strong concerns, urging that planning consent be suspended pending a thorough reconsideration of the application:

1) The Planning Report included no mention of the then ongoing review of the listing of the Central Library. This concluded very shortly afterwards, resulting in the upgrading of the Central Library’s listing category from B to A, in recognition of its national importance as the finest example of a Carnegie endowed library in Scotland. Had the decision to upgrade to an A listing been made before the meeting of the Development Management Sub-Committee, it seems reasonable to assume that Historic Environment Scotland would not have withdrawn their note of concern in relation to the proposal. Given that the eventual vote was so close, at 8-6 in favour, the Development Management Sub-Committee may have reported a different view.

2) The proposed development to which consent has been given is for a 225 bedroom hotel, with a total floor area of 11,950 sq.m. for hotel use and 185 sq. m for ‘other uses’ while other uses restaurant/bar etc. This represents a 98.5% to 1.5% split and must therefore contravene the Local Development Plan requirement for developments to be mixed-use. It is in any event a massive development for the size of the site.

3) The City of Edinburgh Council carried out its own environmental impact assessment in relation to the development, which recommended the rejection of the planning application, citing, among other concerns, the environmental impact on the Cowgate, as it already has amongst the worst air quality levels in the City.

If planning consent were retracted such an action would then allow the community to pursue the alternative vision, as outlined in the “Let There Be Light” petition, of using the recently legislated Community Empowerment Act, thereby safeguarding the Central Library and honouring the aspirations and remarkable achievements of the Library’s benefactor Andrew Carnegie who, at the opening ceremony of the Library in 1890 stated his desire that the Central Library:

“grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people of Edinburgh for all time to come”.

Inspired by the writings of Robert Burns and the Scottish Enlightenment, the importance of Carnegie’s legacy cannot be underestimated having established some 3000 public libraries throughout the World, representing perhaps the greatest tangible legacy a Scot has ever made for the betterment of Humanity.

Therefore, the importance of the public land long set aside for the benefit of the Library, but now threatened by this incongruous and audacious speculation, can hardly be overstated, were it to be used to honour Carnegie’s aspirations and re-vision the relevance of the public library service, which has otherwise become such a tragic victim of the despicable imposition of ‘austerity’. Indeed a recent Guardian article claims that over 300 libraries have now closed across the UK since the chicanery of the global financial ‘crisis’:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/29/libraries-facing-greatest-crisis-in-their-history

Libararies, as physical storehouses of information, safeguarding and imparting knowledge and wisdom, are regarded as the greatest expressions of civilisation, and though some question their relevance in thisdigital age, if for some reason the digital infrastructure collapsed conventional libraries would be absolutely essential to the survival of humanity.

It is the opinion of the utterly offended and disregarded local community that should this hotel be built it would constitute one of the greatest cultural crimes ever sanctioned by the City of Edinburgh Council.
In this year of Scottish Architecture and Design, for those not yet convinced that this matter is a disgrace images of the proposed hotel can be viewed at:

http://edinburgh.stv.tv/articles/1330113-plans-for-235-bed-hotel-plan-by-leonardo-hotelsin-the-cowgate-edinburgh/

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