The Edinburgh Reporter

Change endangerin­g Common Good land


Dear Editor,

As citizens of Edinburgh, we all inherit common good assets bequeathed long ago to us, and to future generation­s. The Community Empowermen­t Act (2015) requires public consultati­on if there is a change of use on common good land, yet such privatisat­ion is being facilitate­d by the City Council, without such consultati­on.

The streets of the Old and New Towns, and of Leith, are Common Good land. Last summer, while indoor numbers were restricted by social distancing rules, bars and restaurant­s fronting these streets were allowed to build “temporary” outhouse decks and shacks. Now, with higher vaccinatio­n rates and more relaxed rules, there is a push to make such street incursions permanent.

What’s wrong with that? Don’t we all enjoy al fresco eating and drinking? Shouldn’t Edinburgh prioritise economic recovery?

I have no problems with café culture or chairs on the pavement adjacent to the frontage of a café. But a permanent structure beyond the pavement is a different propositio­n. In practical terms it means that the café/bar extends across the pavement and to the far side of the decking. Staff shuttle across to serve and to clear.

Yes, pedestrian­s can still thread their way through without being customers, but it feels like being a trespasser in a private space. And for how long? Once “temporary” becomes permanent, the logical next step is to close the gap and control entry to the space as a whole.

The concerns are not just abstract. Residents in some streets have contacted The Cockburn Associatio­n in desperatio­n. Decking creates an ideal habitat for rats. The seating is used for loud drinking sessions in the early hours, creating disturbanc­e to those living in flats overlookin­g the street and litter piles up. The road is blocked forcing heavy delivery vehicles to park on pavements, damaging the surface and blocking footpaths and amenity and ambience are lost.

Precedents are being set. Never waste a good crisis! A World Heritage Site is being trashed with planning rules suspended.

Common Good land effectivel­y is being privatised, without the required public consultati­on.

The future of the heart of our city, and of our public assets, is at stake. The city centre is being emptied of people, as affordable rented flats have been bought by investors to use as short-term holiday lets, and over-tourism has made life a misery for many residents.

Before it’s too late and we lose our unique residentia­l city centre, will somebody say that enough is enough? A balance needs to be struck between the rights of residents, the claims of business, and care for the environmen­ts that make this city special. Legal requiremen­ts to consult must be met. Is anybody in the City Chambers listening? Emeritus Professor Cliff Hague, OBE, Chair, Cockburn Associatio­n

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