Emergency Public Meeting on Section 65
Emergency Public Meeting, 7 December 2017 – Section 65, Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997
On a cold dark windy December evening last year an Emergency Public Meeting was held in the Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EL. Fittingly located just opposite and along from Central Library, Edinburgh, whose main entrance is also on this bridge that straddles the valley of the Lauriston basin along which the Cowgate connects the Grassmarket on the west to the Cowgate Port on the east.
Interestingly, there is also an American connection between the two buildings too: Augustine United Church opened in 1861, the year that the American Civil War began; Central Library was built with a £50000 gift made to the citizens of Edinburgh in 1886 by American-Scottish philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who was also drafted for army service for the US Civil War, but for whom it was preferable to pay another man $850 to report for duty in his place rather than fight.
Indeed, Carnegie’s interest in promoting education and peace is not just evidenced in the thousands of libraries he built around the world, but by the building of the 1913 Peace Palace for which he offered a donation of some $1.5 million under the condition that the Peace Palace would not only house the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but also a public legal library of the highest standard, which houses The Hague.
Proceedings were kindly chaired in every respect by planner, Charles Strang, who also happens to have been the member of the public that proposed Central Library, Edinburgh for category A listed building status in 2015 – something that of course City of Edinburgh Council had promised they would do as far back as January 2005! http://lettherebelightedinburgh.org/news/
Of the six speakers at the meeting this article will focus on just one of them, Neil Simpson, architect and former member of the Board of Directors of Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust, who has been very involved with campaigning to protect the setting as well as future long term of Central Library from the outset.
As well as, Neil Simpson’s own article for Edinburgh Evening News, 24 May 2016, The Herald has also featured concerns about the fate of Central Library in Stephen Naysmith’s article, ‘Architect warns of dark future for library amid protests over hotel plan’, published 21 May 2016, see respectively:
- The Scotsman: Neil Simpson Hotel Plan Damages Future of Central Library
- The Herald: Architect Warns of Dark Future For Library Amid Protests Over Hotel Plan
The disappointing outcome of the judicial review delivered by judge Lady Morag Wise on 20 October 2017 was mentioned once again. Moving forward, this group had subsequently unanimously voted not to proceed with a legal appeal (pursued separately by Simon Byrom), but to focus instead on other actions, one of which was brought to the group’s attention by legal counsel for the judicial review early last year, which is a little known clause in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, called Section 65.
What followed was a hard-hitting factual presentation to the audience to do what they could to ask their local councillors, MSPs and MPs to press City of Edinburgh Council to review its planning decision and invoke a Section 65 that would revoke planning consent of India Buildings 15/04445/FUL.
This wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky appeal, but one firmly positioned in the realms of material planning considerations within the legislative framework of existing planning policies. And, at least seven of them were explained in detail as well as outlined on a pro forma letter template that each attendee was given on arrival.
At the time that Cllr Donald Wilson, Convenor of Culture and Communities Committee had been contacted, it was in the mistaken belief that he was responsible for Edinburgh’s libraries including Central Library. However, it has since transpired that under the new Council administration libraries has been re-allocated to the Education, Children and Families Committee, whose Convenor is Cllr Ian Perry. So PLEASE send your letters and emails to Cllr Perry http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/councillors/55/ian_perry
In Neil Simpson’s detailing of the case for a Section 65 appeal, he began by letting everyone know that much of the information presented was contained in key documents about the library that had to be obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
They flag up three immediate threats to the library:
- The lack of expansion
- The impact on daylighting
- The library as a category A listed building
Lack of expansion
The first of these relate to two LDN Architects’ reports commissioned by City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and published in 2002 and 2008 respectively, which baldly state that, respectively:
“…It would be a hugely wasted opportunity if the site was developed for other uses without seriously considering how it could, not just solve the existing problems of the Central Library, but re-invent the Central Library in a form relevant to 21st century needs and aspirations…”
And conclude that:
“…[the] clear recommendation is to develop the vacant site to the west of the existing Library to create a new, purpose made facility and link this to the re-developed existing building.”
Although, the recommendations of these documents were not fully expedited they were followed by another two specialist feasibility studies, this time conducted by architects Bennetts Associates in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
One of the main impetuses for commissioning these reports was the need to expand Central Library’s floor area to make good current needs and shortfalls. Indeed, LDN Architects’ 2008 report concluded that the library needed 14000m² that would include an extension.
However by 2014, the brief that architects Bennetts Associates worked to was 10000m²: a reduction of 4000m²; Bennetts Associates’ work determined however that the most that could be provided is 8500m², so even a significantly reduced library requirement for floor area cannot be met.
The 8500m² floor area also includes expanding into the vaults under George IV Bridge, so in spite of grabbing as much as they can, they still cannot reach a much reduced need for additional floor space. Also, the 30% reduction in floor area, 40% if one uses the lower floor area, is unexplained; and, it is only through these FOI requests and detective work that this is known.
Impact on daylighting
Neil Simpson went on to explain that another thing the group’s asked the Council to do is to commission its own daylighting impact assessment, which is something that the previous Council administration was asked to undertake right from the start, but didn’t.
Added to this dilemma is the fact that the library itself has been silent over a lot of this? Why that is, no-one knows. This eerie silence doesn’t sound so much like complicity than genuine deep-seated fear? For jobs? For a future?
The daylighting impact assessment from the library’s point of view would quantitively as well as qualitively assess the overshadowing of its public rooms by the hotel; and, detail the gloominess that would be imposed on this important public building.
So what’s happened is that we only know the developer’s version of that assessment of daylighting. Were one to make comparisons to other specialist assessments associated with India Buildings planning application such as air quality, it would throw up conflicting expert opinions, so we simply do not know.
The library as a category A listed building
The library’s listed building designation was upgraded from a category B (of regional importance) to A (of national or international importance) in July 2016, i.e. in between the Development Management Sub-Committee’s (DMSC) approval (by only eight votes to six) on 25 May 2016 and the Council’s 17 November 2016 formal consent.
As a category A listed building, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) would have had a much greater remit to comment on the library’s setting, which was not possible when it was a category B listed building outside the redline of the proposed development area. Indeed, HES were not invited to review their assessment prior to the final decision in November 2016.
Because the group is positive that the DMSC didn’t realise this, it would like the Council to ask HES to review their assessment of the consented India Buildings hotel development with respect to the impact on the library as a building of national if not international importance.
Slideshow: Photo credit Daisy Carnegie
Furthermore, additional key points were highlighted that in themselves help to justify a Section 65, including issues around the reduced economic value of the library, the sale of ‘common good’ land and of course the implications of a Section 65 itself.
Reduced economic value of the library
The money from the land deal will in part be used for the library, but really isn’t that much in the grander scheme of things. It was estimated that perhaps £2 million would remain for the library from the £3.5 million land and property sale.
However, what hasn’t been factored into the economic case for selling off these assets, is the reduced value of the library as a result of this development in light of the overall value; yet nobody has looked at that.
Therefore there is a train of thought that it should be taken to Audit Scotland and the audience was asked if there was anybody with experience of that to help with this. So far, no-one’s come forward, but perhaps someone reading this will?
‘Common good’ land
The Council essentially mishandled the land deal, the bulk of which constituted the Cowgate gap site that was ‘common good’ land. Unfortunately, although this might have had implications in terms of the Community Empowerment Act 2015, it was not applicable here because the Council had no requirement to make the deal public.
Also, if you compare the redline of the Missoni/G&V hotel site with India Buildings, it’s immediately apparent that India Buildings is twice the size, but it hasn’t been through any community consultation to address residents’ concerns as well as Edinburgh’s citizens at large, many of whom rely on Central Library and the services it provides.
Section 65 is little used because very few people and councillors in general, let alone councils in particular know about its existence. Another reason it is little used is because the developer will have comeback, so costs and expenses are an issue.
However, the group strongly believes there are good reasons for CEC to invoke Section 65, as it does involve material planning considerations some of which were outlined in Neil Simpson’s presentation, albeit the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment to comply with EU law with respect to air quality is another material planning consideration (which was covered by author and journalist David Black).
To conclude, we were reminded of Alexander McCall Smith’s warning (first made in 2014 about Caltongate/New Waveley), which he kindly allowed the group to use for its online fundraising appeal as well as its website:
“We must stop destroying this magnificent city. It’s all very well catering for visitors, but we need to ask: why do they come here in the first place? They come to see one of the world’s most beautiful cities. So, if we want to have visitors, let’s not wreck it. We have a responsibility to the world and at the moment we are showing ourselves unfit to discharge it. Shame on us. Shame.”
Following the 7 December 2017 public meeting, a letter was sent to Council Leader Cllr Adam McVey and Deputy Leader Cllr Cammy Day on behalf of SAVE Edinburgh Central Library: Let There Be Light and Land! The letter will hopefully also inspire you, Dear Reader, to write your own demand to the Council that it re-examines its decision-making process with a view to revoking the consented planning application of India Buildings.
Daisy Carnegie, 20 February 2018
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