A revised planning application for the Gateway Theatre building site, which sits behind Elm Row and Montgomery Street has been submitted this week. A previous plan, which had already been given planning consent, would have seen the Grade C listed theatre building demolished, and 42 flats and townhouses built on the site. The new plan proposes that 155 student flats are built on the site instead.
The planning laws that relate to student flats permit smaller units, and so although the number of dwellings has gone up considerably, the footprint, and the heights of the buildings hasn’t changed significantly from what was proposed before. Indeed, at first glance it looks as though the layout of the site is an improvement on what was proposed previously, and in many respects what is there now.
A cynic would of course note that developers can make more money by squeezing in more rent paying tenants too. The growing student population of the city, compared with a falling housing market, seems to have rendered the student accomodation market an appealing one for city developers at present. These kinds of developments have been criticised as inflexible in the long term though – as it is said that they are difficult to convert to other uses.
And the units are tiny, leaving little room for swinging cats or anything else. The smallest ‘en-suite bedroom’ accomodation packs a shower, toilet, some kitchen facilities, a desk and a bed into just twelve square metres. There are 21 units like these in the plans, whilst the largest flats only provide 30 square metres per household.
Most people will be interested primarily in whether the development will make a difference to the entrances on Elm Row and Leith Walk. There isn’t any major change proposed to the Elm Row entrance. We note however, that the view through the pend at Leith walk will include colour coordinated female students:
The changes to Montgomery Street are more radical. At the moment the site has a strange scaffolding brace between two tenements to prevent subsidence. You can see part of the theatre building behind the brace. It’s not very attractive.[googlemaps https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=Montgomery+Street+Edinburgh&ie=UTF8&hl=en&hq=&hnear=Montgomery+St,+Edinburgh,+City+of+Edinburgh+EH7+5,+United+Kingdom&t=h&vpsrc=0&layer=c&cbll=55.959269,-3.181358&panoid=OV6K4gvk0Jf-cXV0o7lJyQ&cbp=13,345.85,,0,-15.84&source=embed&ll=55.956408,-3.17625&spn=0.000048,0.047207&z=14&output=svembed&w=550&h=314]
On that gap site, developers now propose to build this:
What do you think? Is the design contemporary, yet sympathetic to the street? Or should the developers make more effort to blend in with what is already there? The Montgomery street entrance is promoted as the main entrance to the site by developers and this entrance will also provide service access.
Cars are virtually banned from within the site, and as part of the revised proposals developers say that they will fund a City Car Club car, with it’s own space, on Montgomery Street. In our view, given that there will be 155 people living in the development, this could be one area where the developer should consider providing more of a resource.
Once you go through the entrance on Montgomery Street, this is what the new proposals could look like:
In general, this proposal seems to be an improvement on the previous proposals, although there may well be people who live locally who are concerned with the increase in population the development will bring if it goes ahead.
However, those who wish to oppose the plan on the grounds that there are already too many students living in the area may struggle to make a case, as this development appears to be in line with current planning policy. In the application the developers say:
“The site falls within census data zone S01002190 where the total population is 780 of which 104 are students. The impact of this proposal will be to raise the total population to 935 of which 259 would be students i.e. 27%.”
30% is apparently the point where the planning department starts to get concerned over the density of student accomodation in any area.
The Gateway Theatre has an interesting history. It was first built as a vetinary college, and was variouslyused as a skating rink, community centre, billiards hall, theatre and Scotland’s first fully equiped colour TV studio. David Bowie even performed there.
However, given that the site has been left neglected and semi-derelict for years, this proposal with some minor tweaks might be preferable to the earlier plan which already has planning consent. What do you think?
You can find out more here:
- The 2006 planning application for 42 private dwellings
- The latest 2011 planning application for 155 student flats
- The Conservation Statement gives more detail on the history of the site.
Members of the public can comment on these proposals online at present by clicking here.