The 116 residents in the Brunswick Road area who opposed a plan by Barratts to build 241 flats on the former Royal Mail sorting depot site will be pleased to hear that the Scottish Government Reporter has quashed a bid by the developers to overturn an earlier council planning committee refusal.
The council had refused planning permission for the scheme on the basis that it did not provide an adequate mix of housing – none of the proposed 241 flats would be larger than two bedrooms – and also that the design was simply not of good enough quality. One councillor memorably dubbed the design as “weetabix architecture.”
Barratt’s responded to the criticism by throwing everything including the kitchen sink into their appeal, arguing that they wouldn’t be able to sell larger flats as they’d be too expensive, and that in any case they were meeting their affordable housing targets in the development. Notably, they even argued that people tweeting during the council committee hearing had somehow prejudiced the councillors towards the plan at the eleventh hour.
After weighing up the arguments from the developer and city planners, The Reporter concludes: “I think the council’s policy expectation that a proportion of the units should be of at least 3 bedrooms is reasonable, even in the current difficult market conditions.
“Furthermore, as the council points out, the specialist housing advisers to the appellant in their conclusions state that “we would not suggest that there is no demand for larger flatted units at development sites such as Brunswick Road, but 20% certainly seems excessive given the unproven nature of this market and is asking the developer to take on additional risk in a still uncertain market.”
“In this context, whilst there may be an economic case to justify not providing the 20% level being sought by the council, I do not find compelling the arguments put forward by the appellant for not including any larger residential units on a site of this scale in this location.
“Furthermore, I am not persuaded by the suggestion that this scheme should be exempt from providing larger units on the basis that the appellant is willing to meet the affordable housing ‘quota’ on the site. In principle this should not be regarded as an acceptable, let alone sufficient alternative.
Interestingly, although the Reporter says that Barratts had failed to comply with council policies requiring greater diversity in the size of homes available, this alone wouldn’t have been enough to refuse permission, if the design had been any good.
But the Reporter also goes on to add: “I share the concerns expressed by the Cockburn Association and other objectors that whilst the opportunities for this site are excellent, being close to services and public transport and in a disjointed urban and architectural setting that needs improvement, the proposal still lacks coherence and connectivity and would result in a characterless development offering poor residential amenity.”
The decision is significant because city councillors have seemed uneasy in the past about refusing planning permission for developers over design quality concerns – but this decision from the Reporter should give more confidence to councillors on the planning committee who argue that good quality design is important in the city, and are willing to challenge developers on this issue.
Of course, Barratt’s have already begun the whole planning process again for this site so locals should expect a new proposal from the firm in due course. It will be interesting to see how much the new proposal will vary from the last one.
Meanwhile in the Old Town…
Ironically, the decision on the Brunswick road site was issued by the Reporter on the same day as eight councillors on the planning committee – among them Leith Walk councillor Angela Blacklock and City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat – voted through very controversial proposals for the Caltongate development in the Old Town, despite widespread concerns over the design quality of that proposal too.
Even though thousands of people had signed a petition opposing the plans for the site, Cllr Mowat said the proposals were “not hideous enough to be rejected,” before casting her vote in support of the plans.