Colony dwellers in Leith will be interested to learn that it looks likely that their homes are likley received greater protection from the city planning department. Although any formal decision is not likely until next year, you could find your house Listed, or that it has become part of a new Conservation Area.
Colony houses are unique to Edinburgh, with an interesting social history. The model for this type of housing was first pioneered in the Shaw colonies at Pilrig. They were built as ‘affordable housing for key workers,’ as a response to poor housing conditions elswhere in the city. The Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company built most of them and developed the model, building 2300 homes in seven different developments, in just a few decades. You can read more about the history of the ECBC on this page, where we found this table showing the mix of employment across the colonies between 1871 and 1891 (click on it to see a bigger version):
Fast forward to today, and whilst they may have retained their social mix, and broad appeal, it is only the original Shaw colonies in the Leith and North Edinburgh area that have any type of planning protection, as this table shows:
Prompted by residents of the Slateford “Flower” colonies, Cllr Tom Buchanan has called for a review of the planning protection accorded to all the colony developments in the city. When you look at the table above it is striking that so many of the unprotected colony developments are in the Leith and North Edinburgh area.
Internally, as any colony dweller in Leith knows, most of the houses have been modified repeatedly over the years. Indeed, it can be hard to work out what the original design of the houses actually was, such is the variation now.
Externally, it’s a different matter with virtually all of the colonies retaining a pretty uniform appearance, although nearly all of the upper colonies have been extended upwards into the roof.
City planners have produced some policy guidance which they say applies to all colonies. The policy even specifies an appropriate size for sheds in the front gardens. In the unlisted colonies of Leith, it’s probably fair to say that this existing policy has failed. There are plenty of PVC windows, not to mention sheds of “questionable expanse.”
What could protection mean? Conservation Area status practically means that any change to the external appearance of the building (like replacing the original sash and case windows or adding a satelite dish) would need planning permission, although the rules are often poorly enforced. Take a walk down Henderson street which is already in the Leith Conservation Area and see how many of the original sash and case windows have been replaced should you doubt us on this.
If planners decide to list all the colonies then pretty much any alteration inside or out requires Listed Building Consent as well as planning permission, even down to the removal of trees.
You can read the full report council report here.
Perhaps if the Leith colonies are given greater planning protection, then the council might maintain the cobbled streets in the Lochend Terraces better?