Message to Residents of Old Town

It is more than one year since Old Town Community Council (OTCC) was re-established in April 2017 and we welcome your views on how OTCC should move forward into our second year.

We have taken the opportunity to review our first year and this will be published at our Annual General Meeting, taking place at City Chambers on Tuesday 10th July at 18:30. All residents are very welcome to attend.

In the first year since OTCC was re-established in April 2017, our workload was very much driven the City of Edinburgh Council’s (CEC) processes for planning and licencing. These processes and the proposed Virgin Hotel, have taken up to 70% of airplay at our meetings.

It is the OTCC’s view that the acknowledgement received from CEC’s committees, is insufficient for OTCC to continue investing so much time in planning, licencing and India Buildings. However, we ask for residents’ views on the way forward.

We describe our experience in the following paragraphs.

Planning

240 planning applications were made between April 2017 and March 2018, for premises in Old Town. All 240 applications are available to see online at the CEC Planning Portal. Our Planning Secretary assessed all the applications on behalf of OTCC and the Old Town Association (OTA). OTCC commented on 30 planning applications although, less than 5% of these objections were taken into account by the CEC’s Planning Committee. We have learned that an objection from the Community Council has the same weighting as an objection from any other group or individual. Therefore, OTCC decided by 4 votes to 3, that we will no longer respond to planning applications and will not make representations at the CEC Planning Committee.

Licencing

Alcohol licencing applications are published online on a weekly basis. Unlike Planning, licencing applications published more than one week earlier, are not available online. The recurring narrative at Edinburgh’s Licencing Board is that robust evidence-based arguments are made by Police Scotland, NHS Lothian and those other respected agencies who are left to deal with the effects of the overprovision of alcohol in Old Town’s 600 licenced premises. This is then challenged by legal professionals and the licences are granted anyway. The Convenor can be heard at times to say ‘now you can see why [Edinburgh Licencing Board] approves so many licencing applications, it’s because these boys are so good at their job’. We have learned that an objection from a Community Council has the same weighting as an objection from any other group or individual. Therefore, OTCC has agreed by 4 votes to 3, that we will no longer respond to licencing applications and will not make representations at the Edinburgh Licencing Board.

Virgin Hotel

Planning permission for the proposed hotel was granted in 2016. But the proposed hotel continued to take up to 35% of airplay at some OTCC meetings since we reformed in April 2017. We continue to support the Let There Be Light campaign and their many supporters, in their bid to secure a Section 65.

As we see it, we have two options. But, we welcome your views on your preferred option for doing things differently.

1. The first option is to remove ourselves from the planning, licencing and India Buildings processes until January 2019. We would use this time to focus instead on what really matters to our neighbours in Old Town. OTCC has confidence in the new CEC Committees and their new ways of working. We sincerely believe CEC Committees would ensure they are fully briefed on the issues that matter to people living in Old Town. Going forward, we would look to our elected-Councillors. We would ask those of our Ward Councillors, attending the Planning Committee and Licencing Board, to represent us. When there are issues of contention, we would alert our elected Councillors. We would ask them to represent our views/concerns and to provide feedback on the decisions taken.

2. To second option is to form sub-Committees for Licencing and Planning. These sub-Committees would scrutinise applications and provide a monthly written report of their recommendations. Airtime for planning (including Virgin Hotel) and licencing at OTCC meetings, would be capped at 3 minutes each. New Town and Broughton Community Council take a similar approach http://www.ntbcc.org.uk/committees/ They receive the largest numbers of planning and licencing applications in Edinburgh. OTCC receives the second largest number of applications.

Option 1 is our preferred way forward although we welcome residents’ on how we should move forward into our second year. By delegating planning and licencing to our elected-Councillors, considerable energy and time will be freed-up for OTCC to focus on what matters most to our neighbours in Old Town. Things like excess noise, short-term lets, waste collection, the behaviour of walking tour guides, tour buses and so on.

We will provide more information at our AGM.

The AGM takes place at City Chambers on Tuesday 10th July at 18:30 and all residents are welcome to attend.

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