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Candidates respond to Cockburn's Civic Agenda

Posted on 3 May 2017 by Pete

The following text contains the responses of Council Candidates and political parties to the Cockburn Association's Civic Agenda and stance on the Old Royal High School.  It follows a letter sent from the Cockburn to each candidate in the local elections.

For details of the original letter please see end of article (in italics)

John Knox, Liberal Democrat candidate, Liberton/Gilmerton

Thank you for you letter asking for my views on the Royal High School.

No, there is no case for any relaxation of policy ENV1 in the Local Development Plan.  And I believe that policy ENV3 is a suitable policy on which to assess Listed Building Consent.

I believe that the plans for a Music School would be an excellent use for the Old Royal High.  I support them completely.

And, as an aside, I think the Code of Conduct requiring Councillors to remain silent on planning applications is crazy.  Legal correctness is stifling open and honest debate about the merits of planning applications.  Councillors should be allowed to lead public debate and be accountable for their actions.



Tim Wight, Liberal Democrat candidate, Forth Ward

I am very interested in what is happening with the planning process regarding the former Royal High school.

I am personally opposed to it being redeveloped as a hotel…  Although I am not party to the actual process and committee on planning, I am not against good commercial development that enhances business and the built infrastructure in the city.

This is not the case with the Royal High School.  As you have pointed out, it is one of the most beautiful and intact examples of the Classical revival.  Furthermore, it is situated in one of the most important areas of the city in regards to the heritage landscape.

Edinburgh has a unique built heritage and landscape.  As citizens and councillors, we all have a duty of care to “tread carefully” in our world heritage listed city.  Too much council approved “vandalism” of our build heritage has already occurred.  This particular architectural gem should not be altered or used in such a way.  The policy ENV3 is slightly vague but I interpret this clause to clearly support the opposition of the hotel development, as it is detrimental to the historic interest, setting and character of the building (in my opinion).  If elected, I would only ever support restoration and use in an educational or public area, such as the proposal to use the building as a music school…  But only after careful consultation with the citizens of the city.  I support unequivocally the Cockburn Association Civic Agenda for Edinburgh and defer to your expertise in this area.



Amy McNeese-Mechan, SNP candidate, Leith Walk

In reply to your recent letter I can confirm that I advocate the most stringent overview of any developments which negatively impact upon our World Heritage sites. We have a unique cityscape combining architectural and geographical features found nowhere else in the world, and as noted in your Civic Agenda, we have a duty as stewards to protect these for future generations. I noted with interest your many action points in the agenda and if elected I would hope to be able to meet with you to discuss how many of these could be explored further and taken forward.



Ian Perry, Labour candidate, Southside/Newington

I general we are very supportive of the statement issued by the Cockburn Association in particular in relation to preserving Edinburgh unique built Heritage. I also note that you acknowledge that Edinburgh is a growing city and the challenges that brings.

If I am selected and we are part of the ruling coalition I would welcome the opportunity to meet with yourself and any other member of the Cockburn Association to discuss the issues you have raised and look at ways we work together.



Cameron Rose, Conservative candidate (Group Leader), Southside & Newington

Old Royal High School:  First can I deal with your request for comments on the old Royal High School.  As you acknowledge, it is wholly inappropriate for candidates who may be called upon to be members of the Development Management Sub-Committee – and who therefore may have to come to a judgement on the Royal High application - to respond with views with a bearing on the specific application.

Now, I note your attempt to circumvent that with a request for comments, in the context of the information and views you lay out on the Royal High application, on more general points which nonetheless may have a bearing on the pending application.  I am afraid I think that it would be inappropriate for me to enter that part of the debate in the current context.  I will advise Conservative candidates not to contribute to that discussion.  You will understand, I am sure that does not reflect views on the value of the Royal High.  Rather it is necessary respect for the integrity of the process on which people depend.

Cockburn Association ‘Civic Agenda’: Thankfully, it is easier to respond to the ‘Civic Agenda’ request for support.  It covers a broad range of issues and there is much to support in it.  I think you know that I value and delight in the incredible legacy which we have and share your passion for the need to preserve, maintain and enhance the legacy our forebears have left for us.  I also welcome the forward looking parts of the document and the recognition of the need to address the aspirations of our people – I especially noted the sections of housing with emphasis on provision for our young people. Much of the comment on housing strikes a chord.

I will confine myself to general comments rather than give a blanket endorsement. (Are you really arguing that we should not have a rail link in the heart of our city!  I was struck by your lack of including amongst Edinburgh’s biggest assets its people.)

In conclusion, I treasure the built and historic heritage of our city.  I also treasure the people of Edinburgh and the need to provide for them and for future generations.  If re-elected I will continue to work hard to value the good built and historic heritage we are fortunate to have and to work to improve the quality of surroundings for people and for the future.

Should I be elected on May 4th I would be happy to continue the conversation with you.



Neil Ross, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate, Morningside

Thank you for your letter of 11 April concerning the proposed development at the Old Royal High School and the two policies ENV1 and ENV3.  As I stated in my email to you, I am very concerned about the current hotel development proposal and its potential effect on the World Heritage site.  I have read the Cockburn Association’s Civic Agenda and am broadly supportive of its objectives.  I agree that we should, ideally, plan to accommodate the growth of our thriving city whilst retaining the unique qualities that make Edinburgh special.



Alan G Melville, Independent Council candidate, Leith Walk

Many thanks for your letter of 11th April. You raise significant points that impact directly on the constituency where I live and on the residents I hope to represent.

Development of Royal High School buildings

I have never understood why the Council having accepted the Music School proposal did not simply put it directly in place and sign the necessary contracts. The Royal High School was designed as a school, and should be used for that purpose if at all possible. It seems to me that developers are given far too much leeway in cases such as this; there were two proposals, the better one – the one that had public support and used the buildings for something close to their original intended purpose – won, and that should be it. That rich developers can repeatedly appeal the planning process gives them a huge advantage over local residents who do not have the financial and legal resources to keep up this sort of fight.

In any case, Edinburgh has already far too many hotels, and ruining yet another piece of the city’s magnificent architectural heritage to provide yet another is not something I could on general principles support. I can therefore see no reason why regulations should be relaxed in this or indeed any other case.

The ENV regulations are there for a reason, and I for one have no desire to see a return to the hideous days of the ‘Princes Street panel’ whose rush for ‘modernity’ destroyed so many graceful buildings and replaced them with the grey concrete vistas that still stain the city centre. Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site status is a huge tourism draw and should not be sacrificed on the altar of ‘development’ no matter how much money their planners claim to bring in. Such claims invariably prove false, but we are stuck with the development for generations after.

There are too many buildings which give the impression on a blackened tooth in Edinburgh’s smile, nor are they all legacies of 1960s development. In general principle, I would object to any new building which did not at least try to fit in with its surroundings; architects are not gods, and today’s award-winner is all too often tomorrow’s carbuncle.

A Civic Agenda for Edinburgh

I am quite impressed with this document. Its principles look to me as a sensible underpinning for planners to consider on all proposed developments, whether they be roads, schools, houses, hospitals or hotels.

I was particularly struck by the concept of devolved budgets for local services. It strikes me that while this may run counter to government’s tendency to centralise for ‘efficiency’, it will nonetheless revitalise democracy as people have far more direct say in how the council services are run in their locale, and thus find that their vote makes a real difference in their day-to-day lives.

I was also very pleased to find that my comments on coherent planning at a recent hustings are not just a personal hobby horse. If I can paraphrase those comments, we need to stop putting sticking plasters on the problems and actually think about the city’s long-term health. Such is not an approach one can derive from the Council’s planning record, which is distressingly short-termist and frequently seems to consider residents as a problem rather than as the reason for the Council’s existence.

I believe that I can give this document my full backing.

In closing, may I say that as a former resident of Johannesburg, I am gratefully cognisant of Edinburgh’s environment and that one of the reasons for my candidacy is the ongoing casualness with which the Council, and its planners in particular, seem to disregard the opinions of its residents.

The City is short of money – thanks in no small part to the trams debacle. That the planning department seem determined to extend this white elephant regardless of cost and the wreck it will make of businesses and lives throughout Leith Walk ward is a perfect example of why organisations such as yours are needed.



Gillian Gloyer, Liberal Democrat candidate, Corstorphine/Murrayfield

Thank you for your letter of the 11th of April. I apologise for my delay in replying; the staff at party HQ usually forwards mail to me, but of course they are all rather busy at the moment and I found your letter there only a few days ago. I hope you will understand and forgive this rather tardy response. I am not an expert in planning law, but evidently every local authority should respect the provisions in its own Local Development Plan. The question is one of how to interpret words like 'detrimental' and quantify the effects of development. I think most councillors who have served over the years on Edinburgh's Planning Committee, whichever party they represent, have tried to do their best to reconcile the need for the city's economic development with the duty on all of us to protect Edinburgh's unique beauty. Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly support the World Heritage status of the Old and New Towns. In planning decisions, we will aim to strike a better balance between these often conflicting responsibilities. We will also champion accountability, scrutiny and transparency in all council business. Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning to preserve and protect our Green Belt. We value green spaces both within and around the city and will preserve Edinburgh’s unique environment. Thank you again for contacting me. If I am elected on the 4th of May, I shall look forward to working with the Cockburn Association and with everyone else who loves our beautiful city. Regards, Gillian Gloyer



Mandy Watt, Labour candidate, Morningside

Thank you for sending me the link to the Cockburn Association's Civic Agenda. It is an engaging document which deserves to be read by every Councillor and candidate. I have strongly held views on these subjects, which are not dissimilar to those expressed in your Civic agenda and I will forward the link to Andrew Burns and ask him to forward it to all our Councillors and candidates.

As discussed, I share your concerns about the Royal High School site and will do whatever I can to ensure it is not ruined by an unsympathetic conversion.



Green Council Candidates

Thank you very much for writing to the Green candidates on 11 April about the proposed development at the old Royal High School.

We recognise that the new council will be making a critical decision and very much note your concerns about this significant planning application. As you have said, the Scottish Government has decided not to ‘call in’ the application, and we support that decision, believing that decision-making should be done at the most local level appropriate. We believe that local decisions should be respected by central governments.

In this case, as you have pointed out, there is incredible strength of feeling within the local community. In general we are very supportive of communities organising to achieve the outcomes they wish to see in their own neighbourhoods. We would like to commend The Cockburn Association for taking an active role in supporting the community to engage in the planning process.

We are very supportive of the World Heritage Sites in Edinburgh and believe that the council has a duty to protect our built heritage. The best expression of our support is our record of protecting these sites. Cllr Nigel Bagshaw, Green member of the current planning committee, has voted against developments that would harm the qualities of the Old and New Town heritage sites and have a detrimental impact. For example, he voted against the loss of the heritage buildings around St Andrew Square, India Buildings and the Central Library land, the St James Quarter development, Caltongate, and of course the first old Royal High School application by the hotel developers.

In light of the decisions the council has made to approve developments within the heritage sites, we would support strengthening the policies in the Local Development Plan to ensure that the sites are certain to be protected.

We believe that the public deserve a more accountable council as well, and so in our manifesto we have pledged to ensure all planning decisions are recorded so that there is an easily accessible public record of how individual councillors voted. This will further enable the community to hold their councillors to account for their decisions.

Finally, we would like to voice our support for your Civic Agenda for Edinburgh. Many of the points you have raised are in our manifesto. We are also proposing policies that resonate with the themes you have written about, for example bringing empty homes back into occupation, promoting ‘meantime’ use of empty sites and bringing underused public spaces back to life.

Thank you for writing to us and publishing our response, and we look forward to working with you in the new council.


Edinburgh Greens (on Civic Agenda via Twitter)

All looks fine to us. You'll see a lot of the same themes in our manifesto.


Harald Toberman Independent, Leith Walk (on Civic Agenda via Twitter)

Excellent document - clear and concise. Now we need Councillors to turn these goals into reality. Especially in the #LeithWalk ward.




Dear  ___,

Thank you for standing as a candidate in the local elections. I am writing to you and all the other candidates to alert you to concerns of the Cockburn Association and to seek your views.

Proposed Hotel Development at the old Royal High School

The planning application for the development of a hotel around the old Royal High School on the south side of Calton Hill will be one of the most critical decisions that the new Council will take. As the Scottish Government has said that it will not “call in” the application, approval by the new City Council would mean that the developer could go ahead. It would mean that the option of reusing the Royal High School for the Music School would be removed. The previous Council gave permission for the Music School, but rejected the earlier hotel application that was lodged in 2015. If the new Council refuses permission for the revised hotel application, that will not be the end of the story, for the developer would still have the right to appeal against that decision.

There were 3,025 objections to the planning application (and a further 1,361 objections to the granting of Listed Building Consent).  This is clear evidence of concern amongst citizens.

The Code of Conduct for Councillors requires that they remain impartial in respect of planning applications that are pending, and do not make public their voting intentions before the application comes to the relevant Council meeting.  However, the Code does not “limit you from discussing or debating matters of policy or strategy, even though these may provide the framework within which individual applications will in due course be decided” (para.7.6).

I am therefore writing to you to ask whether you think there is any case for policy ENV1 in the Local Development Plan to be relaxed in any way when dealing with planning applications in the World Heritage Site? The policy says “Development which would harm the qualities which justified the inscription of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh and/or the Forth Bridge as World Heritage Sites or would have a detrimental impact on a Site’s setting will not be permitted.” 


Similarly, policy ENV 3 in the Plan says “Development within the curtilage or affecting the setting of a listed building will be permitted only if not detrimental to the architectural character, appearance or historic interest of the building, or to its setting.”  Again, I would request your view on whether this is an appropriate policy against which to assess applications for Listed Building Consent?


Finally, I wish to draw your attention to the Civic Agenda that the Cockburn Association has produced, and which you can see at Again I would ask you whether you support this Agenda for how the city is to grow?


The Cockburn Association will collect and publish responses. Thanking you in anticipation of your response.


Yours sincerely,


Emeritus Professor Cliff Hague, OBE,

Chair, Cockburn Association.