A good analogy for a planning process and decision is a football match.
For large applications here in central Edinburgh, we have one side as the developer or applying company.
If it is disputed, then we have the community, neighbours and local residents as the other side.
The Council, through its planning department and committee act as referee, using a set of rules that they have largely instituted.
Some would say that the match is more like the cup than the league as the teams are not so evenly matched.
Let’s take as an example a recent application and decision. Wetherspoon’s applied to turn a music venue, The Picture House, into a super-pub on Lothian Road in Edinburgh. It would have a capacity of 1500 and be one of Edinburgh’s largest pubs.
A. Wetherspoons is a pub chain well known for its large gates and not ripping off the fans with high food and drink prices.
B. The Community Council, about 140 neighbours and locals who objected, thousands who signed a petition to keep the music venue. Also the NHS which has campaigned for fewer alcohol licences in this very area. So this was a pretty strong community team.
The referees rules:
Edinburgh Council Planning Guidance has a map showing that the application is in an area with an over-provision of food and drink outlets.
There are over two hundred alcohol outlets within a ten minute walk.
Furthermore Policy Ret 12 of the Local Plan says, “The change of other premises to a pub will not be permitted: if likely to lead to an unacceptable increase in noise, disturbance, on?street activity or anti?social behaviour to the detriment of living conditions for nearby residents or in an area where there is considered to be an excessive concentration of such uses to the detriment of living conditions for nearby residents.”
It is clear that the rules are in favour of the locals. In fact the game appeared to be won before it even started.
So the game is played out with locals stressing the council’s own prohibition of a pub at this site.
They point out the loss of residential amenity, particularly in the next door tenements, and the anti-social behaviour that leaves locals fearful of being in the area of Lothian Road at weekends.
They also point out a refusal for a similar Wetherspoons in Rose Street on the basis of loss of residential amenity. This was upheld on appeal. The NHS health case is also made.
The game is going well for the locals. It looks like a slam dunk, like playing Lichtenstein.
However at full time we find that Wetherspoons has won and this is what the referee says: “The application complies with the Development Plan and Non Statutory Guidelines. The proposal is appropriate in its location, preserves the character and appearance of the conservation area and would not prejudice residential amenity or road safety.”
Come on ref, are you deaf and blind and what about your parentage?
When Wetherspoon’s were refused a mega-pub at the other location, the decision was scrutinised by the appeal system.
When the locals lost their case here, there can be no scrutiny of what appears a ludicrous decision.
There can be no better example of why an equal right of appeal should be introduced to prevent the most outrageous decisions avoiding scrutiny.