People power forces Edinburgh Council re-think on student flats

Controversial student housing plans which sparked a public backlash have been withdrawn by developers after a storm of protest.

Residents had rallied against ScotMid’s proposals to knock down its store on Gorgie Road and rebuild it with a block of 121 student flats above it. The plans received 131 objections from local residents and was expected to be determined by Edinburgh City Council’s development management sub-committee on Wednesday.

But in a letter to planners, the applicant gave notice to withdraw the planning application “with immediate effect” and asked for the proposals to be removed from the agenda.

Community advocacy group Common Weal Edinburgh South West led a campaign to support locals fight the development after a flurry of objections were lodged by neighbours.

Objections included inappropriate massing, overlooking and privacy issues and significantly reduced daylight and sunlight to adjacent flats.

Local people were also frustrated to see a large student development proposed rather then social or affordable housing, although this is not a material planning issue.

Jessica Clack, Common Weal Edinburgh South West co-organiser, has spoken out in support of the concerns of residents, who felt they were being ignored as they fought to prevent it going ahead against their wishes.

She said: “We recently co-hosted a community consultation and one of the primary concerns local people raised was that they don’t feel they have any influence on decisions directly affecting them.”

“This is also highlighted by the recent Edinburgh People Survey where Sighthill-Gorgie was the most dissatisfied ward in terms of the council management of the city and having a say on local issues and services.”

“We believe in ‘people before profit’ as part of a responsible planning process and we organised this campaign to ensure that the views of local residents were not ignored.”

There were further concerns that the developer, Scotmid, had used “dirty tricks” after the company’s staff submitted letters of support for the plans. More than half of the registered comments of support for the scheme were identified as coming from Scotmid staff. Supermarket bosses said the letters were posted due to “enthusiastic staff” who were excited about the new store plans.

Independent local councillor Ashley Graczyk said: “I have had a constant stream of emails from constituents in recent months strongly objecting to this proposal due to the very negative impact it would have on their family homes. They have also felt inadequately represented at a local level throughout this process. I am pleased that the voice of local people in Gorgie-Dalry has now been heard loud and clear.”

A spokeswoman from Structured House Limited, which had tabled the plans in partnership with Scotmid, said: “It has been withdrawn. We are reassessing aspects of the plans ­following feedback.”

Published in the Scotsman | 20th May 2019