Draft Annual Report & Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2021

The Annual Report & Accounts (as a draft) will be presented at the New Town & Broughton AGM on Monday 14 June. – we welcome questions / comments from  residents.

If you are interested in attending, please register via Eventbrite here 

 

ANNUAL REPORT OF THE NEW TOWN AND BROUGHTON COMMUNITY COUNCIL

The New Town and Broughton Community Council is one of Edinburgh’s 46 Community Councils, established under statute, to represent the views of the community within the New Town and Broughton area, the boundaries of which are set by the Edinburgh Scheme for Community Councils.

Chair’s Annual Report – New Town and Broughton Community Council – June 2021

Last year, I started this report in the third week of the UK’s first lockdown, having held our first ever virtual committee meeting on Zoom. Twelve months later, and three lockdowns later, Zoom meetings are our ‘modus operandi’ and the work of NTBCC has gone on apace. We are all now experts on-screen, using the hand signals and chat functions and very familiar with the phrase ‘you are still on mute’.

Inevitably there was a slight hiatus in work streams across the board as we all found a new way of working but it was not long before it was almost business as usual for NTBCC. In many respects it was even harder to keep up with the level of activity emanating from the Council, as Emergency Measures were very quickly put in place to allow for speedy reactions to help the City deal with the pandemic and the sudden change to our daily lives. These measures often meant that there was very little time to consult or consider the value or relevance of all the proposals brought forward. However, I must commend the community councillors and local interest group representatives on NTBCC for their energy and dedication to the workload this year as we continued to try and represent the views of the community on many fronts and in very different times.

In this past year NTBCC met on Zoom ten times. We were unsure initially if Zoom meetings were valid under the governance protocol for the Council, so although we had held a trial Zoom meeting in April without members of the public being involved; it was June before we officially convened on-line. There is traditionally no meeting in July but there has been a meeting every month since, with both the delayed AGM and a business meeting in October too. Interestingly, we have had good attendance numbers from members of the public, arguably higher than in-person meetings. In many ways the virtual media platform is very suitable for public meetings as it is accessible for most (but we do recognise that not everyone has the ability or necessary equipment to take part), it allows the public to take part in specific sections of the meeting and attendees can be more comfortable (and there is no danger of getting rained on!) There is a downside though – not getting to meet people in the flesh and the connection and relationship building that this allows. It does look like a mix of meeting styles will be the way forward. Using Zoom also made it easier for our local Councillors to be ‘present’, and we must thank Cllrs Mowat and Osler for their very regular attendance.

However we must record our disappointment in the extreme lack of interest shown in NTBCC by the councillors who represent the governing group in CEC. Several times it would have been helpful to our discussions to have heard from them, and, more importantly, for support from them with regard to decisions made.

Councillor input is invaluable in giving us relevant and appropriate background information when we discuss Council proposals, consultations and decisions. Their attendance also gives residents an opportunity to raise important issues directly with their elected representatives, which is much appreciated.

Each month NTBCC receives an update from the West End Community Police Team, who cover the New Town and Broughton area. Police Scotland are not permitted to access Zoom so this year they have provided us with a monthly written report which has been very informative for community councillors. We are appreciative of their support and continued link with NTBCC.

NTBCC shares the workload among five committees and I am very grateful to the convenors for the work they do and the teams they work with. Remember, everyone is a volunteer and there is no doubt that the community, NTBCC and me personally, benefit enormously for the time, effort and skill-set that these individuals bring to the table (screen?!). I have been constantly amazed and impressed by the quality of discussion, preparation and reporting that each committee has undertaken this year, especially when it inevitably requires even more Zoom meetings. You will find a full list on the NTBCC website of the Community Councillors, Local Interest Group representatives here and the Committee Convenor’s  here .

Thank you to them all.

Please also see below the committee convenors’ full reports on their activities, which do make for interesting reading.

Transport

It has certainly been a very busy year for the Transport Committee and a baptism of fire for new Convenor Mike Birch. The pandemic required an emergency response from the Council to create safe places for walking and cycling to meet the demand and need to maintain social distancing as life in the City began to resume once the first lockdown restrictions were lifted.

NTBCC had supported many of the initiatives proposed to improve the ability of people to walk and cycle around Edinburgh, however we were concerned from the outset that many of the changes proposed did not appear to be based on responding to need but instead were a means of advancing the current Council administration’s existing agenda to transform the city centre.

Initially NTBCC responded to the major route changes within the city centre i.e. the bus gates at the east end of Princes Street and closure of Waverley Bridge, but by the turn of the year our focus was very much with the Spaces for People (SfP) proposals for Broughton Street. The Transport committee had been very actively involved in preparing and proposing appropriate design solutions at an early stage and Mike went to great lengths to engage and consult on NTBCC’s behalf with the SfP team. We were very disappointed with the official proposals when they were unveiled. So much so that NTBCC leafleted the local area and, for the first time in recent history, held a special meeting (on Zoom) to alert and consult with residents and local businesses before making a deputation to the Transport and Environment Committee outlining our concerns.

These concerns are also highlighted in the NTBCC submission in response to the very current debate about making many of the temporary SfP measures implemented across the city permanent. Sadly, it appears that local stakeholder groups like ours appear to have little influence with the Council.

The pandemic, on the flip side, did allow the tram works to proceed at pace after the initial stoppage. This also meant increased engagement with NTBCC who, along with the other community councils along the route, regularly meet with the tram team. Recently the Traffic Regulation Orders for all changes to roads routes were lodged for consultation and NTBCC will be submitting a detailed response for our area-specific proposals. However there continues to be fall-out from the tram project throughout the Broughton area (and beyond) from noise, vibration and bus rerouting and we do our best to help and support residents where we can.

Planning

The Planning Committee continued to be very active during the year. Several largescale proposals had initiated proceedings with the Council’s planning department so NTBCC were involved in the pre-application process for developments on Princes Street, Picardy Place, Powderhall and at the foot of Dundas Street among others. NTBCC had also been involved with the previous application to redevelop of the old RBS site (which was subsequently withdrawn) but following the sale of the site to Ediston, this has now been christened the New Town North (NTN) project. Despite recognition by some that Ediston’s proposal was an improvement, the quantum of development, building heights and massing in such a small area understandably remained of real concern both to local residents and users of the adjacent King George V Park.  The NTN team submitted slightly revised plans after concerns were raised by Historic Environment Scotland and others. There followed several meetings by all involved to consult with residents. However, after considering the plans in detail,  NTBCC objected to this proposal, supporting the many local residents  who had raised concerns, and also made a deputation along with other residents’ groups at the Development Management Committee but the application received approval (albeit  with conditions to be met). Both the decision and the weight given to concerns raised was a disappointment.  NTBCC continued to work with residents and the developer’s team to ensure as positive a dialogue as possible continued as the project develops but this has been less successful that we had hoped.

There has been a noticeable uptick in the number of significant proposals being brought forwards over the past 6 – 9 months across the city centre and New Town.

It is always interesting to be aware of what the future holds for the built environment of the City Centre, and the planning report makes for an interesting read.

Environment

Over this year the environment committee, under the aegis of Peter Williamson, our new convenor, developed a new working model with three topic areas: natural environment, built environment and place making, each with a separate lead. These groupings more align with the working streams of the council so we hope that our communications can be more straightforward.

This working model emerged from the detailed response prepared by the committee to the Public Spaces Management Plan consultation which had a very wide-ranging remit and which covered many important issues for NTBCC and citizens at large. NTBCC have for some time been arguing strongly against the over-commercialization of our public spaces so it was imperative that we made our case strong and clear. On a positive note, we are pleased that NTBCC, along with other stakeholders from all aspects of public space use, are now actively engaged in developing the proposals to the next stage and helping to shape a formal guidance document for the future.

Over the past eighteen months NTBCC have been trying to engage with the Waste Management Team from CEC about the serious refuse problems in the area with no success. We had hoped to have a discussion with them at our November meeting, as they had asked to make a presentation to NTBCC but unfortunately they postponed. It came as a shocking surprise to find that a Communal Bin Hub Review was on the Agenda for discussion at the Transport and Environment Committee in April. Part of this review is to discontinue the gull proof bag and recycling box collection services for the major streets of the New Town. This will be a fundamental shift to fixed hubs, of several bins each, along the street fronts of these magnificent terraces and forever alter the streetscape and character of the area. On behalf of NTBCC I made a deputation to the committee but very sadly the motion was approved. NTBCC are supporting residents’ groups affected to investigate the legitimacy of this decision and to attempt to persuade the Council to explore this issue further. These hubs will affect all streets in our area so NTBCC will endeavour to engage with the Waste Team for best results where appropriate.

Engagement

Convenor Simon Holledge has continued to engage and link NTBCC with residents and groups across our interests and locales. As he is now also Secretary for the Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC) we are increasingly working together on shared issues, and information sharing. I believe that the revitalisation of EACC will be of enormous benefit to us all going forward.

A prime example was the co-ordination last year between the Cockburn Association and the five city centre community councils working together in response to the business case for the Quaich Project. This year there has been a preliminary meeting with regard to the Waverley Valley project (which we believe will encompass the Quaich project as was). Once again a combined approach with likeminded parties is likely to be very useful.

Specifically, Simon has organised a series of informal talks over recent months covering aspects of the natural environment, neatly combining his role as lead on ‘Natural Environment’ with this committee. More details of these will be covered in his update to last year’s Engagement Report.

Licensing

Jonathan Finn stepped down as Convenor of this Committee after several years of sterling service.  Susan MacInnes has now taken over as Convenor and has been joined by Nick Reid as the other Committee member.  

Due to the extended periods of lockdown and the restrictions imposed due to the COVID pandemic, the hospitality industry was unable to operate for much of the 2020/2021 year.  Consequently the Licensing committee had a quiet time as there was little activity in this area.  Several applications for new or amended licences were postponed due to the uncertainty over dates of reopening. 

Now that the lockdown has been lifted and also the St James Quarter is shortly to open, there has been a notable increase in licensing applications to be considered. The Committee keeps a watchful eye on the Licensing Board records and submits objections on principle where it is felt that any proposed changes might impact on residents and the amenity of the locality.

There have been some issues with the increased use of applications for occasional licences which have been used to cover outdoor drinking situations, particularly in respect of bars located in residential streets.  NTBCC has supported local residents who feared that granting permission to these as a temporary measure may set a precedent for future permanent licence approvals. There is a further complication in that there is no requirement for these applications for occasional licences to be advertised to the public therefore there is a lack of awareness around their existence.  

Occasional licenses are supposed to be exactly that so NTBCC will keep careful watch for any changes or developments of these applications. 

Other business

NTBCC also took part in the Scottish Government consultation on Short Term Lets in the Autumn of 2020 and submitted our response. We then leant that a Working Group was to be set up, but with no representation from any resident or community groups. NTBCC wrote directly to Kevin Stewart MSP, who at the time was Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning. No doubt because of our letter outlining our concerns a change was made (!) and now Deirdre Henderson, an NTBCC community councillor, will sit on the Working Party group representing ‘urban’ residents.

I am also pleased to report that at last, almost two years after the public inquiry, the Government supported the Reporters’ recommendation and rejected the appeals from the hotel developers in relation to the Old Royal High School. This was cause for celebration for NTBCC, and congratulations to Richard Price in particular, who submitted objections, worked with Edinburgh World Heritage and the Cockburn Association and attended the Inquiry, from the first application in 2015. NTBCC await with interest the next stage for this wonderful building.

Hello and Goodbye

This year we said adieu and thank you to Jonathan Finn, who had been our Treasurer, Licensing Convenor and steadfast supporter even from afar (back of a car in Spain via Zoom!). We will miss him but wish him every success with his new venture and hope to see him in the public gallery when he is back in town. Mike Birch kindly agreed at last year’s AGM to take on the Treasurer role and you will find the Financial Report attached.

Fran Wasoff, who had been on the Licensing committee and had stepped up as stand-in for Jonathan Finn as Licensing convener earlier in 2020, decided to stand down from the community council in June.

Allan Jack also decided to stand down from the community council in October 2020 and as representative for the India Street Association. Allan had managed the Transport brief for several years as Convener of the Transport Committee.

James Kilner, (who was a de facto representative for the Fettes Row & Royal Crescent Residents [FRRCRA]), Stuart Mc Allister (as an unofficial representative for the ‘Powderhall Village Owners’) also stood down due to pressure of work over this past year and consistent with his intention to move away from the area .

Many thanks to all of them for their time, commitment and active involvement.

Fortunately, Jenni Inglis joined us as a Local Interest Group (LIG) representative for the FFRCA, and was able to inform NTBCC as a representative of neighbours and objectors to the New Town North development.

We have also had some other changes of representatives from other Local Interest Groups. Ken Lochrie has joined us as an Associate member on behalf of Drummond Civic and Stewart Mills as representative for Great King Street Association replacing Sheila Warnock, who brought great energy to the committee.

Thanks

Special mention must be made to Laura Graham, who stepped up to the role of Secretary after a very long pause at the last AGM! Laura has done a fantastic job in keeping us all in order – with the right attachments on the right day and always with a smile. And thanks to Bruce Ryan, who is the font of all ‘local authority working’ knowledge and Minute Sec extraordinaire.

Thank you to all NTBCC Community Councillors, for your involvement and opinion and reasoned debate. For turning up and speaking out and for filling in tick box consultations or writing lengthy reports. NTBCC is only the sum of its parts – but what great, bright, shiny parts they are.

Finally, the “Annual Accounts for the New Town & Broughton Community Council” can be viewed here

 

Carol Nimmo

Chair, New Town & Broughton Community Council