Annette O’Carroll is a member of the Leith Central Community Council planning sub-committee. The group has put a huge amount of volunteer work into developing a proposal for a Pilrig Conservation Area – but they are now calling for more local residents to get involved. Annette has written this guest post for the Greener Leith blog to explain more about the groups work.
Recent planning legislation (Householder Permitted Development Rights) allows householders to make significant changes to their property without the need to seek planning permission unless the property is listed or is in a conservation area. Perhaps the most worrying part of the HPDR is that owners can also do anything they like to the front of their properties within a ‘bubble’ of 1 metre, which could have a particularly serious effect on the appearance of Victorian tenements and terraced housing.
Because of concerns about the possible effects of this legislation, Leith Central Community Council approached the City of Edinburgh Council’s Planning Department to see if the parts of Pilrig not already included in the Leith Conservation Area could form a Pilrig Conservation Area. Members of LCCC met with Jack Gillon, the Head of Built Heritage at the Council who stressed that a need to protect an area is not a good enough reason to award it conservation area status, and that this would be dependent on whether it was judged to be of sufficient historical or architectural importance.
Initial historical researches have established that the Pilrig area is of great historical importance, with recent excavations in Pilrig Park revealing the remains of one of the only 16th century siege works found in Britain. The most important building in the area, Pilrig House, was built in 1638 and purchased by James Balfour (an ancestor of Robert Louis Stevenson who mentioned the house in two of his novels) in 1718. Early 19th Century maps show that the Balfour estate covered most of the area of the proposed PCA with the exception of Roseburn Cemetery. The development of Pilrig over the 19th and early 20th centuries largely depended on decisions made by the Balfours as to how they feued their land, and it is thought that this could be why Pilrig contains streets of small Victorian terraced housing, unusual so near to the city centre.
The next step is to establish a boundary for the proposed Pilrig Conservation area and prepare a Character Appraisal, which would include the Historical Origins and Development, and the Spatial Structure and Townscape of the area. The latter involves an account of the Architectural Character and Natural Heritage. The historical research so far has suggested that the boundary should include Bonnington School, on through the northern edge of Pilrig Park to Pilrig House, Roseburn Cemetery, the Victorian terraced housing on Pilrig Street, Rosslyn Crescent/Rosslyn Street, the older parts of Dryden Street, all of Shrubhill to the boundary of the Leith Conservation Area on Leith Walk, the Shaw’s Colonies and Spey Terrace (the older buildings at the Leith walk end of Pilrig Street are already in the Leith Conservation Area), across to Pilrig Cottages and part of Arthur Street, then most of Balfour Street and back round Pilrig Park to Bonnington School.
To have a better chance of success, we need to get more people in and around Pilrig who are not on Leith Central Community Council interested. The Draft Pilrig Area Character Appraisal (attached) contains work done so far, but needs more effort, particularly on the the important ‘Architectural Character’ section. It would be really useful at this point to hear any local opinion on the proposed Pilrig Conservation Area (either for or against), and anyone who would like to get involved, or has any information to contribute please get in touch with Annette O’Carroll or Roland Reid. All suggestions are very welcome.
Once the draft Pilrig Conservation Area Character Appraisal had been finalised (by early autumn), the next step would be to contact the Planning Department to request formally the intention to ask for conservation area status. By late autumn the Appraisal would go before the Planning Committee, with a recommendation by officials that they either support it unreservedly or support it with some reservations. The Planning Committee would then decide whether the area was of sufficient merit to warrant designation as a Conservation Area.
If the Planning Committee approves the proposal, it would then go out to formal public consultation. This could involve an exhibition in McDonald Road Library, with a couple of Open Days where members of the public could talk to officials from CEC about the implications of the proposal. It isn’t expected that everyone will be in favour (the most recent Conservation Area, Pewlands in upper Morningside, had about 70% in favour and 30% against), but presumably if there was obvious strong opposition at this point it wouldn’t go ahead.
Anyone interested should have a look at the Draft Character Appraisal for some information about the fascinating history of the Pilrig Area. Please do get in touch, since this should be a community effort.