Planning Application for RBS Site on Dundas Street Withdrawn – NTBCC Thoughts

Many will have already seen that the amended application (16/05454/PPP) for the redevelopment on the former RBS site on Dundas St. / Fettes Row / Royal Crescent etc., and the associated application for demolition of the existing RBS buildings (16/05455/CON) have been withdrawn by the agent, GVA Grimley, representing RBS. The original applications for the main site were first lodged in November 2016 following an extensive Pre-Application consultation through 2015. Following a significant number of objections lodged to the original applications by many local residents, as well as from several statutory consultees including Historic Environment Scotland and NTBCC, an amended proposal was lodged in November 2017. Although this was an improvement, several key concerns remained, which resulted in further objections being submitted.

After a long period of “no news” from late January 2018, the unexpected and perhaps surprising request to withdraw both applications from the agents was submitted on 3rd August – covering both the Planning Permission in Principle (16/05454/PPP) & the consent for demolition in a conservation area (16/05455/CON).

A brief communication from Edinburgh Council’s Planning Dept. after a request from an Inverleith Ward Councillor stated that “The PPP nature of the application made it difficult to resolve some of the issues that arose during the assessment process. It is understood that RBS now intend to market the site and a new detailed planning application is expected in due course. 

This will require the submission of a new PAN (Proposal of Application Notice) and provide the opportunity for further community engagement.”

Today, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that an RBS spokeswoman has provided further details behind the decision to withdraw these applications.

“As we are not ultimately intending to develop the site ourselves, it became more appropriate, after detailed discussions with the Council’s planning department, for the final developer to submit their own more detailed planning application and agree the design detail with the Council directly.”

“Developer demand for the site remains very strong, and we will now market it with the benefit of extensive preparatory work being completed. We look forward to working with interested parties to deliver a market leading scheme for Edinburgh.”

NTBCC has mixed views on this – whilst we do not regret that the amended scheme as presented in the application has not gone ahead, we are disappointed that after a considerable period of time, with extensive consultation and clear views being expressed both by many residents in the local community and other heritage bodies, no consensus could be reached on an acceptable development.

One of NTBCC’s concerns had been the impact of the proposed (perhaps 100% residential) development on local infrastructure (e.g. schools, healthcare provision). We agreed with views expressed by Edinburgh Council’s Economic Development that a minimum Class 4 (Office) use should be stipulated as part of the completed development to support local businesses in the area.

However, with RBS now having completely vacated the site in early 2018, the continuing delay in formulation and determination of any future plans may extend the immediate impact making it less and less profitable for small local businesses, with footfall in the area now significantly reduced.

In the meantime, the buildings sit empty and increasingly forlorn.

We are also of the opinion (to be confirmed) that the applications lodged earlier for development on the section of the site fronting Eyre Place (14/01177/PPP) and 14/01126/CON for demolition of the now-derelict (& unlisted) Lorimer-attributed stable / carter’s house and the later Scotsman Building on the western edge of King George V Park, whilst initially being approved (subject to a legal agreement being put in place) have now also lapsed.

We do support the new approach of bringing forward a detailed planning application, rather than the more cumbersome option being pursued up until now, of an initial “Planning Permission in Principle” followed by several further applications to specify the details of the proposal. However, we would hope that any new application still contains a masterplan for the site and considers the site as a whole rather than several piecemeal proposals. Furthermore, NTBCC would have a strong preference that the site be marketed as a unit with the subsequent purchaser then developing it as such and would not then sell it off in packages.

We continue to believe that the proposed site, given its size, central location and adjoining a precious open space within the New Town, still offers a unique opportunity to add real value to the area. NTBCC are not against appropriate development for the site including replacement of some of the buildings that have little or no architectural merit. The potential remains for development of this prime New Town site, which directly abuts the World heritage site, to create a complex of buildings that could truly enhance this area of the city; the site is large enough to permit a coherent unifying vision to inform its design, offsetting the architectural incoherence demonstrated in several recent developments in St Vincent Place, Fettes Row West and lower Dundas Street.

Given that it appears that any proposal for the site has gone back to square one, we await further news with interest.