The Edinburgh Reporter
Change endangering Common Good land
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