'Accidentally buried' report casts doubt over student housing plans

The council recommendation was discovered in another element of the development application.

Plans for student housing at Tynecastle High site should be rejected, says ‘buried’ Edinburgh council report LDRS
Report: The discovery follows a long-running campaign against student housing in the area.

A council report which was “accidentally buried” has cast doubt over a developer’s claim that a derelict site in Edinburgh is better suited for student flats than social housing.

Edinburgh City Council’s environmental protection team said plans for accommodation for 468 students at the former Tynecastle High site should be rejected when they go before the planning committee later this year.

The recommendation was laid out in a report dated from November last year but was not available to view alongside the main planning documents online and only came to light after being discovered in the community garden element of the development application.

It comes following a long-running campaign opposing more purpose built student housing (PBSA) in Gorgie and Sighthill.

S1 Developments, which is behind the bid, has consistently said that constraints – primarily noise coming from the nearby North British Distillery (NBD) – mean the “requisite level of amenity” can’t be met for residential homes on the McLeod Street site as gardens and balconies would not be provided for everyone living there.

It has argued that building student flats instead “allows us to mitigate the site constraints to a greater degree” by including large outdoor and indoor communal areas.

However, the uncovered council report states there is “no difference between the amenity standards required for residential and student residential developments,” adding the developer is merely “of the opinion” student use will help mitigate the noise issues.

Environmental protection officers have also recommended the application be refused, saying the site is not suitable for any form of residential-led development whilst the distillery is still operational.

A spokesperson for S1 Developments said the report was uploaded by the council and is “not something the applicant has control over.”

They added: “Closed window attenuation and Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MVHR) is acceptable for traffic noise and, in this case, we have asked the council to accept the same solution for industrial noise. There are numerous precedents for this throughout Edinburgh, particularly in Leith where industrial noise is a prevalent issue.

“The combined levels of internal and external amenity far exceed any other consented student scheme in Edinburgh, which we hope will become an exemplar for student housing in the city. This communal amenity strategy is not suited to private housing as residents expect a degree of private external space.”

Labour councillor Ross McKenzie said it was “concerning” the report was not included in the main planning application and added:  “What’s particularly interesting about it is that it advises that the application should be rejected as well as of course stating clearly – and I don’t know whether planning agrees – that there is no difference in required amenity between student and other residential.

“That’s been very central to the argument that the developers have been making.

“The campaign was very much we want this to be social housing not student housing but the recommendation in the report is that it shouldn’t be housing at all while North British Distillery are present.”

Councillor McKenzie added the various local PBSA developments including the one at Tynecastle High and Westfield could bring around 700 students to the area, which he called a “huge change.”

Ashley Graczyk, former Sighthill/Gorgie councillor and founder of Housing Activism, said: “It is very unfortunate that Edinburgh council officials have accidentally buried this highly critical report from environmental protection on the proposed redevelopment of the Old Tynecastle High School.

“The report unequivocally states that the amenity standard for student and residential accommodation is the same, rubbishing the developer’s claims that this site is only suitable as a PBSA.

She pointed out there have been almost 200 objections against the proposal.

Aditi Jehangir, chair of Living Rent’s Gorgie/Dalry branch, said: “If this site is not suitable for other residential housing then it is not suitable for student housing. Students deserve the same standards of housing as everyone else.

“Gorgie Dalry does not need more student accommodation, it needs high quality, affordable, social housing. Purpose built student accommodation is at a breaking point in our area; over the past decade, planning permission has been obtained for over 1,000 student units in total. In the same period, the local population has doubled, but only 85 affordable homes have been built.

“We now call on councillors to do the decent thing, to follow the advice laid out in their own environmental protection team’s report and reject this proposal.”

Edinburgh City Council was approached for comment.