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8 March 2017

Undermining local democracy

When Patrick Geddes, the founder of modern town planning, observed that ‘a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time’ he probably didn’t envisage the long running planning pantomime that the Canonmills community in Edinburgh have endured. You’d think the future of a small and much loved local building could be a matter for the community and the local authority’s planners to deal with. You’d be wrong.  Our current system encourages developers to appeal to Ministers and demand that decisions made by democratically elected local representatives be overturned. A balanced playing field? 


By Brian Donnelly, The Herald

CAMPAIGNERS backed by stage and screen star Hayley Mills are to challenge an apparently terminal turn in the battle to save the Earthy eatery building that overlooks an urban beauty spot in Edinburgh.

The Save 1-6 Canonmills Bridge campaigners said they will continue to fight moves to replace the single storey building that has Earthy as its tenant with flats and a restaurant space after a planning document posted online showed a key tenet of the opponents' case had fallen.

One aspect of the campaigners' challenge was that the developer Glovart Investments had missed a three-year deadline to start work on-site that began when planning permission for the development was granted in 2013.

It is claimed that allowing vehicle access and dropped kerb has been cited as being enough work done to amount to redevelopment beginning.

The campaigners said they still believe the work is not enough to be considered as such and will raise a further challenge.

The document describing the "commencement of development" states: "While the council is entitled to seek to revoke extant planning permission and conservation area consent, it is unlikely that consent for this will be obtained from Scottish Ministers and even if it is compensation will be very expensive.

"In conclusion, the developer is entitled to continue with the implementation of the planning permission."

It read: "Agents acting on behalf of the applicant have submitted information as part of their notification of commencement of material operations that the vehicular access was formed on June, 10 2013 and that the kerb was dropped on May, 7 2016.

"Council officers initial view was that on the balance of probabilities that a material operation had been carried out, prior to consent expiring, meaning that the express grant of planning permission is capable of implementation."

The campaigners said in a statement they are disappointed but added: "We question the interpretation of the legislation and won't let this drop.

"In this, and in other ways, we are continuing to push for a better outcome for the site.

"We remain hopeful."

Ms Mills,70, a friend of one of the campaigners, said that "the loss would be a sad one for the local community and part of Edinburgh city".

Resident Colin Wright said: "Given it is now nearly four years since planning permission was controversially granted it seems odd that this development is still being considered as live."

The campaign gained the support of 7,000 people and took their protest to the city council chambers.

Edinburgh City Council rejected a separate application to demolish the building but this was overturned on appeal at Holyrood.

The case went to the Scottish Government's planning reporter who said last year: "At present it is particularly well presented at street level by its current occupiers as an organic food grocers and restaurant and is clearly valued by the local community.

"However, I do not consider that its current occupation and use is relevant to the question of the intrinsic value of the building itself to the special interest of the conservation area."

The reporter said that "it is essentially a simple and functional mid 19th century small scale mainly brick built industrial building, which appears to have served the area as shops throughout most of its existence".

"It has been the subject of various ad hoc adaptations throughout its life and is now built of mixed materials."

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