Edinburgh Councillors Clash Over Controversial Former High School Student Flats Plans

Councillor Graczyk and Cllr Dixon are in disagreement with regards to the proposed purpose built student accommodation development that is planned for the former Tynecastle High site.

An independent and SNP councillor are in disagreement about the need for a new Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) at the former Tynecastle High School in Gorgie.

Independent councillor Ashley Graczyk, who represents the Sighthill/Gorgie ward, has thrown her weight behind a community campaign that is opposing proposals at the old Tynecastle High site.

She says that she objects to the proposals as they “fail to comply with Edinburgh City Council's own guidance that student developments on sites of over 0.25 hectares should include a minimum of 50% residential floorspace.” The old Tynecastle High site is 1.6 hectares.

The community campaign is being led by Living Rent - a tenancy union - who are liaising with local residents in the area that are against the PBSA development ahead of the council deadline for public comments on October 1.

Tynecastle Teague developers propose to build accommodation to house 545 students on the site of the former Tynecastle High on McLeod Street.

The development is also set to feature a community space with a landscaped courtyard.

Cllr Graczyk said: “This proposal is completely inappropriate and ignores Edinburgh Council’s planning policy on the provision of residential accommodation on very large development sites. I am surprised to see a developer submitting a proposal in such flagrant breach of local priorities to create affordable housing.

“We are reaching a saturation point with purpose-built student accommodation units here in Gorgie-Dalry. Many of my constituents are angry that hundreds of student units are being built and scarcely any affordable homes. It is essential that this site, at a massive 1.6 hectares, includes a substantial residential component to provide the homes we need in our community.

“Students do not pay Council Tax, so any increased population will put a strain on essential services in the local area such as bin collections and health services without the corresponding increase in revenue. These services are already very stretched and we have constant complaints about dumped items and overflowing bins.

“I am confident that my fellow Councillors will reject this proposal out of hand. We need affordable homes, not student megablocks.”

But SNP Cllr Denis Dixon, who also represents the Sighthill/Gorgie ward, disagreed with fellow Cllr Graczyk.

He said: “I attended the GDCC meeting when the developers presented their proposals for this site and noted the comments of those attending the meeting from the public etc. I commented that Gorgie Dalry is presently the most densely populated part of the city and is mainly made up up of affordable and social housing provision. I disagree that the area is desperately in need of more social housing.

“There is a move to develop brownfield sites throughout the city but unfortunately this site is not suitable for social housing because of the restrictions on development. Developers will not be willing to build affordable housing on this site and unless an alternative use can be found, the site may continue to sit vacant, falling into further disrepair.

“The application to develop this site is now in the planning system. Comments and objections close on October 1. Depending on the number of objections. The local Cllrs, can ask for a presentation on a site visit or hearing on the item. The DMSub have to agree on the two latter requests.

“From my perspective the proposal to save the listed building and to develop the remainder of the site to be used as student accommodation is a fair option. This though will be decided by the members of the DMSub committee when the application comes before them.”

Cllr Graczyk is joined in her condemnation by Avril Cuthbert, the chair of the Gorgie-Dalry branch of Living Rent, who has been able to collect over 50 objections to date.

Avril said: “We are in the middle of a housing crisis in Scotland. Overcrowded, high density purpose-built student accommodation created a public health crisis this past year. We need genuinely affordable homes for students and the wider community.

“The proposal by the developers makes repeated reference to environmental factors which claim to make a high quality’ residential development impossible. If health and safety considerations preclude the development of residential housing on the site then it is not safe for student housing.”

Living Rent Edinburgh say that local residents believe that the proposed PBSA will unbalance the area around Tynecastle.

Alice Spencer Brown, a local Living Rent member, said: “Gorgie could do with more affordable flats to bring families to the community and closer to local schools and amenities. Families could also have younger generations like students living in the same area without the need to be pushed out by extortionate private rents.

“The area is now saturated with student flats. There needs to be transparent statistics provided to the Edinburgh community on the numbers of students and demand for these flats. Residents should not be pushed out of the city by unaffordable rents and these builds.”

Published in Edinburgh Live | 30th September 2021