Save Stockbridge is, first and foremost, most definitely not an anti-Accies body. Save Stockbridge fully respect that the Accies are our neighbours and it goes without saying that they need a stand and changing facilities. We believe we speak for all when we say that no-one would object to an appropriately sized development in the right location. The problem is simply that this proposal is wholly inappropriate in terms of usage and scale.
It is worth noting that permission for the current redevelopment of the Raeburn House Hotel under its new ownership was achieved with the support of the local community. So it would be unfair to portray us as a group that are opposed to change or adopting a kneejerk ‘not on my doorstep’ mentality. The reason why the community got behind the Raeburn House development was because that developer made considerable efforts to engaged local people. In contrast, the Developer in this case has barely engaged the community at all. There has been little transparency and locals have been left with a stark “take it as it is or it’s going to be a car park” proposition.
The sheer scale and nature of what is being proposed here and its consequences for many aspects of life amongst the wider community is what has brought the community together. The development features 19,000 square feet of retail space along Comely Bank Road. To put this into perspective, that is the equivalent of 5 Scotmids or 20 small to average sized Stockbridge shops.
Furthermore, this development would obliterate the current open views to Inverleith Park with a real loss of amenity to the residents. And with regard to the retail aspect of Stockbridge, it would unquestionably put pressure on many of the existing businesses at a time of retail difficulty.
In the weeks running up to the planning application being submitted, we took to the streets of Stockbridge to draw local people’s attention to the existence of the project and make sure they could see the developer’s own drawings. But we were surprised at just how many people were only finding out about this development for the first time as a result of our efforts, again pointing to the Developers lack of sufficient transparency and engagement.
It is no exaggeration to say that there were gasps of horror from many who were seeing the plans for the first time. Many find it hard to understand why a club that currently attracts crowds in the low hundreds at best to its first XV matches (14 times per year) requires a ground with capacity for 5,000 spectators (2,500 seated, 2,500 standing). The stand itself, which would sit on top of the retail development, is almost the height of 3 double decker buses, stretching along the length of Comely Bank Road and Portgower Place. It bears all the hallmarks of a white elephant in the making. Not the type of legacy either the club or the village requires.
It is clearly not a rugby development – it is a retail development, which is being built primarily for the benefit of the Developer. If this is not the case, why does the development actually reduce the playing footprint and have its stands absolutely against all norms e.g. behind the goal and not at the half way line?
Save Stockbridge are also concerned about factors such as traffic considerations (with only 50 car parking spaces being planned) along what is already a busy road, a principle route for emergency services and schoolchildren amongst others. Fears also exist surrounding the future viability of the trees that form the hallmark avenue effect along Comely Bank Road if the current publicly owned wall (which contrary to some reports is believed to have many years of life ahead of it if properly maintained) is removed and the proposed concourse is built.
People literally queued to sign our petition to express their concern and within a very short space of time we amassed some 2,500 signatures (all from local people physically present at our stand or participating shops, a far better measure of local opinion than internet based petitions and surveys). It is fair to say that no more than a handful out of the thousands that stopped to talk to us and look at the developers own pictures expressed any degree of support for the proposals as presented.
We therefore conclude that claims that that the community is divided regarding this development are nonsense. The community as evident by the petitions is vehemently against this development, a point which Save Stockbridge has stressed to both local councillors and MSP’s alike in the last 2 weeks.
Regardless of what justification, financial or otherwise, has been put forward for this development, it is important not to overlook the fact that the developer is seeking to build this in a conservation area. Strict rules apply to protect these important historic aspects of our city for benefit of all both now and for generations to come. It is these same rules that prevent ordinary people living directly across the road from this development from installing something as simple as double glazing, an amenity that many of us take for granted. If this development is allowed to go ahead, it would establish a dangerous precedent that says that these important planning principles can simply be cast aside simply to suit the business needs of a private body pleading poverty. This cannot be right.
Save Stockbridge would appreciate the opportunity to work with the Accies to find a mutually agreeable solution but, despite repeated requests, have not been afforded this opportunity.
Whilst we have genuine sympathy for the Accies current situation and agree that solution needs to be found, this proposal has to be rejected.
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