Proposed Demolition / Redevelopment of the Former RBS Site – Summary of NTBCC’s Position

There will be a hearing at the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee on 17 February 2021 (via Microsoft Teams) on the three interlinked applications related to the former RBS site at Fettes Row / Dundas Street.

The applications to be determined at this hearing are :

  • 20/03034/FUL ‘ Demolition of existing buildings and erection of mixed-use development comprising residential, hotel, office and other commercial uses, with associated landscaping / public realm, car parking and access arrangements at 34 Fettes Row’ (including the later revised application). NTBCC submitted an objection to this;
  • 20/03661/CON ‘Complete Demolition in a Conservation Area’. NTBCC stated that the case for 100% demolition of buildings on the site had not been made ; and
  • 20/03655/FUL ‘Formation of path and associated landscaping King George V Public Park’. NTBCC suggested a lower impact intervention should be considered.

NTBCC (together with other local interest groups and  some heritage bodies) will be presenting our  views on the proposals as a whole, covering key issues that have been raised in our previously-submitted representations. Links to the full NTBCC responses are at the foot of this article.

NTBCC’s objection to the main application (20/03034/FUL) reflected issues raised by local residents groups (from Fettes Row & Royal Crescent, the Drummond Civic Association, as well as from the recent Applecross development on the corner of Dundas Street & Eyre Place) and also the Friends of King George V Park.

Key amongst the issues  we highlighted mirrored concerns raised by Historic Environment Scotland on the proposed heights of the four crescent blocks proposed for the current open ground to the north of Royal Crescent which will have a detrimental impact on the World Heritage site, the New Town Conservation area and the amenity of King George V Park (KGVP). These concerns are exacerbated by the proposed positioning of the northern crescent blocks within a few metres of the boundary of the park. The AVRS (Accurate Visual Representation) as submitted with the application showing the before / after view from within the park looking south can be viewed here and a similar visualisation looking east to the corner of Fettes Row / Dundas Street here.   

NTBCC also commented on the overall height of the new office block on the corner of Fettes Row & Dundas Street and the accommodation block to the east on Fettes Row. Concerns have been raised by both HES and the local residents’ groups.  The inclusion of an additional level of accommodation set back from the proposed wall-head level of the office and residential blocks, including the proposed tall set-back roof storey increases the overall height of these buildings such that they rise above the level of the terrace opposite. NTBCC urge that the height of these buildings be reduced appropriately to counter the negative impact on the World Heritage site and the setting of Category A & B Listed Buildings on Royal Crescent and Fettes Row.

Our objection also covered concerns with the proposed building line being brought forwards closer to Dundas Street (with the resultant loss of the line of trees along Dundas Street).  NTBCC take the view that it is important that sufficient recess is maintained on both the eastern and western edges of Dundas Street such that there is a definite and distinct break between the strong classical sweep from the World Heritage site (to the south) down the hill on Dundas Street and the new development. It is also important retain the positive characteristics of the Conservation Area, including buildings predominantly set back behind railings.

We also raised concerns with respect to the loss of mature trees both on the development site and some within KGVP.  Plans include building on “semi-natural open space” on Eyre Place, which will require the removal of all of the trees. The importance of preserving and enhancing the precious green space afforded by the only publically-accessible park in the area  was specifically a matter the DMSC raised during the discussion  on the  Pre-application and requested planning officers ensure that this is considered.  There is an underlying concern being expressed by some that trees may be felled or cut back primarily to improve the outlook from the proposed development i.e. to create more open views and improved vistas for the new residential apartments, or that dead or diseased trees being removed on the Park’s south and west boundaries cannot be replaced due to proximity of new (5 – 6 storey) buildings along those boundaries.

The proposed Construction Plan proposes processing of the demolition materials on site – however, we urge the applicant to reconsider this approach and investigate an alternate solution to installing concrete crushing plant on the current car park, or ensure that appropriate noise reduction is included. This is a residential area with many properties surrounding the curent RBS car park on all sides.

It is also clear from views expressed to the community council that, with the current design, there would be a strong preference  for a clearly demarcated boundary between KGVP and the new development, i.e. a hard and not a ‘soft’ boundary – we urge that an appropriate boundary fence is installed along both the southern and western existing boundaries to KGVP once the current buildings are demolished, ensuring  that the proposed ‘permeability’ is limited to the new south-western entrance to the park and would reinforce that KGVP is indeed separate to the proposed development.

There were aspects of the proposal that we supported.

  • NTBCC (and residents groups) are supportive in principle of the redevelopment of this brownfield site being residential-lead but including a variety of other Class uses. NTBCC also support in principle the proposed ‘podium deck’, taking advantage of the topography of the site and serving as an elegant solution to the segregation of pedestrians and vehicles on the development. It also allows the necessary parking provision & other functions to be hidden from view.
  • We support the retention of Class 4 (Office) provision – being ~50% of the previous site provision), as this is beneficial to businesses in the local areas.
  • We are pleased to see 25% site Affordable Housing provision – although it is somewhat disappointing to see it is Mid-Market Rent (MMR) provision, but it is still welcomed.
  • We also support the offer of carrying out Subsidence / Pre-Construction and Demolition surveys due to the concerns raised by local residents regarding the impact that any demolition or construction activity may have on the structure of listed buildings, especially along Fettes Row and Royal Crescent. Whilst we are fully aware that this may not be a requirement that can be enforced under planning legislation, nevertheless, we welcome the verbal commitments made in this regard by the developer as part of the pre-consultation discussions.

In summary, whilst NTBCC remain supportive of appropriate development on this city centre brownfield site and fully understand and acknowledge that a residential-lead, mixed use development could help to revitalise this area of the New Town, given that RBS have now vacated the site. There is an opportunity to create something which could be an asset to both the local community as well as the wider city.  NTBCC are not against appropriate development for the site which directly abuts the Edinburgh World Heritage site and is within the New Town Conservation Area – including replacement of some of the buildings that arguably have little architectural merit.

NTBCC take the view that the development, primarily due to the proposed heights of buildings along the boundaries of the park, is too difficult to screen successfully such that this small, peaceful, natural, green oasis is preserved such that it continues to offer amenity to local residents and visitors alike.

Finally, we note that HES raised significant concerns with the proposed height, massing and views. We concur with these concerns and fully support the mitigating actions they recommend.

The full representations submitted by NTBCC to these applications can be viewed here, covering  20_03034_FUL, 20_03661_CON and 20_03655_FUL . A further representation was submitted on the revised 20/03034 application which can be viewed here