The Society objected to an application for this development proposed to be located in a small area of established woodland adjacent to the West Gate of the College grounds.
In our objection we noted that this area of woodland makes an important contribution to the landscape on the Western edge of the Conservation Area along Crewe Road. We also commented that while there are already several modern structures (albeit of very mixed design quality) on the College estate these are mainly clustered to the North of the main (East) gate whereas the Western side of the Fettes site, where this development would be located, has suffered much less from intrusive developments and therefore deserves greater protection.
The Society expressed concern that the development would result in the loss of several good quality trees and would potentially compromise some exceptional tree specimens from both a visual and an arboricultural perspective. The Society also expressed concern that the design and materials proposed for the new building would be significantly out of character with the Conservation Area and would detract from the College’s exceptionally important historic buildings – impinging on the axial view to the main building and creating a visual conflict with the lodge house at the West Gate. The design has the appearance of a temporary building rather than a fitting companion to these historic structures. The Council approved the application subject to a condition requiring detailed agreement about all works likely to affect trees on the site and a replacement tree planting scheme.
City of Edinburgh Council Development Management Committee public hearing on 26 August 2015 to consider an application to demolish No1 Canonmills Bridge
Evidence given by Ian Hooper on behalf of the Inverleith Society
The Inverleith Society has been active for the last 40 years representing the views of the many local residents who are committed to protecting and enhancing the character and amenity of Inverleith. Our members have been deeply dismayed by the proposals for this site. Many others who are not members of the Society have written to us to support our views.
Canonmills has undergone a number of changes over the years. Some businesses have disappeared but others have taken their place. Residents of Inverleith are generally delighted that Canonmills has once again become a thriving hub with specialist shops, cafes and restaurants – an important local asset greatly valued by the local community and by the many visitors and tourists who come to the area. We hope that the Committee will take proper account of this in reaching their decision.
Canonmills has always been an important junction and meeting place. Whether we are heading North to the Botanic Garden and Inverleith; South to the New Town and the City centre; or West to Stockbridge, the unobstructed views we can enjoy across the Water of Leith provide a pause and a punctuation in the journey, a marvellous transition as we move from one part of the City to another with a different character.
The building at No 1 Canonmills Bridge sits in a small triangle of land on the South side of the bridge which is included within the boundary of the Inverleith Conservation Area. But Canonmills is not really a part of Inverleith any more than it is part of the New Town or Broughton although it does have has an important relationship with each of those areas. It really needs to be seen as a place of its own with its own character. So it makes little sense to form judgments about the character of a development on this site as if it was in the centre of Inverleith which is what the planning report pretends is needed.
The planning report in front of the Committee refers to the building as an anomaly. In fact its small scale and its modest form are part of what gives Canonmills its particular character. Furthermore the report overlooks key references in the Conservation Area Character Appraisal which make clear that a “variety of architectural forms and styles” also makes an important contribution to the overall character of the area.
Our view of the planning issues is as follows. The applicant is seeking to demolish a single storey building which is visually unobtrusive and allows open aspect views across the river in both directions. It is a modest building – maybe not an architectural gem, but what it it
certainly does not do is detract from the character of the conservation area or the buildings round about it. Furthermore its scale and form contribute to making Canonmills a distinctive local centre.
On the other hand we have not found any precedents in the Inverleith Conservation Area or indeed anywhere along the Water of Leith for the scale, form and siting of the proposed replacement building. Nor can we find any justification for the assertion in the planning report that the design is compatible with the character of the Inverleith Conservation Area. Whereas other buildings alongside the Water of Leith – including those on the North side of the bridge tend to be set well back from the river the proposed development would produce an isolated four storey block right next to the river. Its western facade would extend along the whole of the East side of the bridge approach, obstructing views up and down the river from all directions. These features would result in a significant loss of amenity and would therefore be highly detrimental to the character of the Conservation Area.
In its planning guidance for larger scale new developments the City Council with very good reason gives great emphasis to the idea of place-making. Here at Canonmills we have a place with the very qualities which that guidance hopes to achieve but where that sense of place is being put at risk by the proposals for demolition and re-development.
How can it make sense to demolish a building which is so much part of the place where it is located and to replace it with a building which would damage so many of the features which give Canonmills its own special character and convert it into just another built up road junction like a hundred others across the City?
Along with others living in the locality we sincerely hope that the Committee will reflect carefully on the strength of feeling that this proposal has aroused. That has been driven by the sense that we are at risk of losing one of the places that we all value and which make the area and the City special.