05 October 2014

Panda Crossing?


I saw this picture on twitter earlier today, and all I could think was how much better it would make my work commutes (and that of all the pedestrians who use the same route as me).

So, for instance, at Bruntsfield Place/ the top of Leamington Terrace:


Or when crossing Melville Drive at Argyle Place, where planners have jury-rigged something that approximates this already...(shhh...don't tell anyone)




And it would be an excellent addition to the planned crossings/route that I blogged about earlier in the week.

The good news is:


Now, we just need to get it in the Scottish Guidance (and get my suggested name adopted!).

01 October 2014

Step Change?

Yesterday I had to make my way from my office near the Meadows to a meeting near Haymarket.
Amazingly, I realised that not only can I get most of the way there using off-road paths, but if current proposals go through, I will be able to ride 99% of it off road in a couple of years.

The current route, in case you're wondering goes - NMW-Tarvit Street-Gilmore Place-Leamington Lift Bridge - Toucan crossing - Shared use path - toucan across the Western Approach - shared use path through to Dalry colonies - Dalry rd  (link here)

map from cyclestreets

Under the proposals currently under consideration, there will be segregated paths, toucan crossings, and two cul-de-sacs linking the Meadows to the Canal.

I am convinced that the proposals being consulted on reflect a step change in the city's cycling provision.  I have a vague recollection that at some point there had been talk about 'shared pavements' being involved.  But when the first phase of consultation with stakeholders occurred, there was no mention of it at all.  All the options under consideration involved segregation.  Clearly lessons were learned from the Meadows to Innocent process,  where proposals for shared use pavements were revised.

The Canal-to-Meadows consultation - by far the best I have been involved in - asked the stakeholders to consider how best to implement the project aim - a cycle network - while balancing the competing demands of pedestrians, local residents, shops, and bus users.

Some of you will remember this intersection from this blog and perhaps also that of Uberuce. It desperately needs improvement, and I'm pretty convinced that the current proposals go a long way to making it more family-friendly at least.  I'm even more hopeful that it may be part of a process of making the Tollcross area more pedestrian-friendly, and help local businesses,

And it won't just be useful to local folks -- it will enable safe, family-friendly cycling all the way from the city's western edge to Musselburgh.  Extraordinary really.

But cycling through yesterday also highlighted the limitations of the council's current approach.

The full route to Haymarket is bitty, and windy, and surprisingly hard to follow - despite having cycled it several times before in both directions (see also), I still missed a crucial turn.  It is not, and will never be speedy.  If it is ever widely used by cyclists, it will become entirely hostile for pedestrians.

If we're ever going to get 10% of trips made by bike, then we need this sort of segregated infrastructure, but once we get to that 10%, it will be over-capacity, and a substantial rethink will be required, along with another step change....

But, ever since I participated in the first stage of consultation for the Canal-Meadows link, I've been feeling quietly optimistic, not about cycling, but about the potential to make Edinburgh a more liveable city. This is only the first step, but it's a really important one.

(by the way, if you use the Canal-Meadows route, or might if it were safer, please do respond to the consultation - it's extremely short and very straightforward).

(Edited 5 October)

16 June 2014

Second-class, left-out, ad-hoc...

I rather unexpectedly found myself facilitating a table discussion at the first UK Women's Cycle Forum on Saturday.  Have been increasingly aware since then of all the things I did wrong - I didn't get people to introduce themselves, I didn't keep clear notes, and I didn't report back comprehensively (probably more....).

So, by way of amends, here's a quick roundup of what was despite all that, a pretty good conversation.

We started with the burning issue of TRAMS, highlighted by a participant who now struggles to get her daughter to school safely because of the shambles at Haymarket.

But we agreed that the trams project was really just symptomatic of the way in which cycles (and cyclists) are sidelined, not taken seriously, or just added on without much thought.

One participant at our table expressed concern that 'segregated' infrastructure risked reinforcing this even more - by pushing cyclists off the road onto second-class tracks.

This is exactly why I prefer to talk about integrating cycling into transport planning, not segregating it.  It's not just about cycle-tracks, but also about redesigning intersections and much more.

But this sort of planning can't come as an after-thought, as is so often the case; nor can it be funded with the money left over from road-building.

For cycling infrastructure to work, and be properly inclusive, it needs to be mainstreamed into all planning, not compartmentalized off into a little corner.

I do think there is hope here. Despite many negative examples, some aspects of planning in Edinburgh does seem to be moving towards considering the needs of all users, and balancing the different interests to build decent infrastructure.

The #UKWCF was a really positive, optimistic event, so I'm going to hold out hope for these changes.

Hopefully when we reconvene next year, we'll have seen some more positive change.





13 June 2014

Women's Cycle Forum

Still no idea what to say at tomorrow's inaugural Women's Cycle Forum.  That's partly because Sally said it all already, and partly because for me it's really not a gendered issue.  

But, of course, it is a gendered issue. I spent a bit of time this morning at a meeting about Edinburgh's 'Bike Account', a Sustrans initiative launching in 7 UK cities.  When I got there (a bit late), there were 18 people in the room, and 3 were women.  And one of them was the invited speaker from Copenhagen.  But on the powerpoints, there were lots of inspirational pics of women cycling merrily along. And the Council's family network is supposedly for "for less confident cyclists 'including women'".  Sigh.  

Clearly we have some work to do.  

On the other hand, I'm lucky. On my commute I tend to see as many women as men - all kinds too - MAWILS, hack-bikes, pashleys and bobbins, lots of kiddie seats, but also briefcases. At work, far more women in my department cycle than men.

This perspective probably blinds me to some things. I'm always baffled when men I know who cycle miles through town say their wives won't let them take their kids on the road in a bikeseat or tag-along.    

In an interesting reversal, my husband's been putting in some miles on the road these long summer evenings on his new road bike.  And I'm terrified.  When he's out with the kids, he's on roads we know, and I know he'll be careful.  

But, when he heads out after putting the kids to bed, and then comes back and tells me where he's been I'm horrified.  "not THAT one!" " do you KNOW how many accidents there's been on that road?"

It's these semi-rural roads around Edinburgh that have seen most of the fatal accidents in recent years, not the city roads where we take our kids. 

So, yes, cycling is gendered, but in some pretty complicated ways. 

I bet I'll learn a lot from everyone else who's going to the bike forum tomorrow. Please come and share your experiences too. 

06 June 2014

Why the rush?

This morning, walking to school, another mum was shepherding  several small children across a small intersection, while a private hire car with its flashers on waited impatiently for them.  

I say impatiently, because while he waited for them to go, he pushed in behind them as soon as they were half-way across.  The kids were small enough  to be a bit unpredictable, and even wobbly, as one was on a balance bike. 

The driver may have followed the letter of highway code rule 170, but surely not its spirit.  What really galled me is that there was hardly room for him to turn his car around, once he did get in, so why the rush? 


pic from googlemaps

The thing is, the Mum clearly saw nothing wrong with what had happened.  And it wasn't 'dangerous'  just inconsiderate. 

What I saw was a group of children being bullied by a big metal box.  I know (hope!) people reading this probably won't think I'm  over-reacting, but obviously 'most people' do.  

I came away feeling a bit stupid, a bit annoyed with myself, and a bit annoyed with the world. Not a good combination. 


02 June 2014

Craighouse : third time lucky?

A third set of plans have been released for the Craighouse site.  A friend of mine, whose response I posted last time, has now written an authoritative response. I'm posting it here as a public service - and to encourage us all to write our own! 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the third application for the Craighouse site (12/04007/SCH3).  I object to this proposed development, for the reasons set out below:

Buildings at Risk

A key argument of the developer is that permission should be granted for the proposed development to secure the future of the listed buildings on the site.  This is a false argument. 

The buildings only entered the Buildings at Register during June 2012, after the developer took ownership of the site.  It is the failure of the developer to propose a suitable development for the site that has resulted in their inclusion in the Register.  While the long term future of the existing listed buildings is dependent on re-development, there is no reason why that future should be dependent on the current poorly thought out proposals. The developer should work with local residents to develop a scheme that is sympathetic to this unique site while also being capable of returning a reasonable profit.

It is also worth noting that the buildings are included in the Register “due to ongoing vacancy and lack of identified new use”, rather than any fundamental risk to the deterioration of the fabric of the buildings.  There is no immediate risk to the buildings that require an urgent decision.

Enabling Development

The developer argues that the new build elements of the proposal are required as “enabling development”.  Enabling Development is not defined in Scottish planning policy, however the English Heritage policy is generally used in Scotland – which is:

“Enabling development that would secure the future of a significant place, but contravene other planning policy objectives, should be unacceptable unless:

a) it will not materially harm the heritage values of the place or its setting
b) it avoids detrimental fragmentation of management of the place
c) it will secure the long-term future of the place and, where applicable, its continued use for a sympathetic purpose
d) it is necessary to resolve problems arising from the inherent needs of the place, rather than the circumstances of the present owner, or the purchase price paid
e) sufficient subsidy is not available from any other source
f) it is demonstrated that the amount of enabling development is the minimum necessary to secure the future of the place, and that its form minimises harm to other public interests
g) the public benefit of securing the future of the significant place through such enabling development decisively outweighs the disbenefits of breaching other public policies.”


The new build elements of the proposed development are contrary to this policy on several counts:

The new build proposals will materially harm the heritage value of the site, particularly through inappropriate massing of the new build elements and the use of materials alien to the current site, such as timber cladding, zinc roofing and metal framed doors and windows.

The new build proposals exist to increase the profitability of the site for the current owner rather than benefit a site of significant architectural, heritage and landscape value.

The developer has submitted a Report on Financial Case: May 2014, which aims to show that the proposed new-build elements of the development are the minimum necessary to secure the future of the listed buildings on site. This has used an average sale price of £419,550 per unit to calculate a conservation deficit of over five million pounds. This average has been calculated using nearby sale prices paid over the past ten years and an average price paid per square foot for those sales.

I would argue that these methods significantly underestimate the potential value of the units that will be built on the Craighouse site, thus overestimating the amount of new build development required to secure a reasonable profit for the developer. 

 My reasons for this are as follows:

1.    There are no properties comparable to the units proposed for the site in the nearby area.  The local area consists of Victorian tenements, terraces and 1930‘s semi-detached houses built in a traditional street pattern, the price of which does not reflect the unique nature of the Craighouse site.

2.    There are no new build properties in the local area with which to compare prices for this unique site.  Any homes on the Craighouse site would carry a price premium to reflect its location and nature

3.    Prices charged for properties on similar iconic sites are significantly higher than those used in this report, e.g. an average two bed flat in the Quartermile development retails at £426 per square foot[1] – which is between £36 and £136 per square foot higher than the sales prices quoted by the developers in this report.

The developer also highlights a figure of 20% profit as fair and reasonable, mentioning a decision by an English Planning Inspector to back this up.  It is worth quoting the English Heritage Guidance[2] on this matter, which states:

“As a very rough guide, in today’s market, a pure entrepreneurial residential developer will look for an overall return on costs of between 15% and 20%, while a builder/developer may seek only a 10% return on the construction cost element, as a builder’s profit should be included in those construction costs. It is important that a double profit is not allowed.”

Given this, 20% seems an overly generous profit margin which, again, would allow for more enabling development to be built than is required to secure the future of the listed buildings.  The developer also indicates that the decision of the English Planning Inspector sets a precedent for the level of profit that should be considered fair and reasonable.  This decision does not set a precedent.  The English Heritage guidance is clear on this point, stating “Each scheme is different, and must be assessed on an individual basis, normally within the range indicated[3]

It is also worth remembering that the English Heritage guidance goes on to state that:

“…a developer will normally wish to maximise the conservation deficit to be covered by enabling development, and thus the quantum of development, in order to maximise allowable profit, since it is directly related to the scale of the operation… The public interest will almost always lie in minimising the quantity of enabling development.”

Development Plan Policies

The proposed development is contrary to many development plan policies, including:

1.   It is contrary to the spatial strategy set out in Strategic Development Plan for the regional core, which directs development towards the four Strategic Development Areas within Edinburgh.

2. It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan, as the new build proposals would have significant adverse impacts on several A listed buildings, due to their proposed location, height, massing and materials used. These proposals would have an adverse impact on a highly visible setting, which can be seen from many parts of Edinburgh.

3. It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposals do NOT have regard to the need to improve the quality of life in local communities by enhancing the natural and built environment. The proposals will reduce available open space, negatively impact on a site of architectural and historic value and make the surrounding area less, rather than more, attractive.

4. It is contrary to policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposed new build elements are not a high quality design and there is no indication that there will be use of sustainable building materials.

5. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 1 which states “Planning permission will not be granted for poor quality or inappropriate design or for proposals that would be damaging to the character or appearance of the area around it, particularly where this has a special importance.” The new build proposals would be damaging to the character of the surrounding area, which is of special importance (given the presence of A listed buildings and conservation area status) due to their height, massing, location and proposed materials.

6. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 10 which states that “Proposals for buildings which rise above the building height prevailing generally in the surrounding area will only be permitted where… there would be no adverse impact on important views of landmark buildings, the historic skyline, landscape features in the urban area or the landscape setting of the city, including the Firth of Forth.” The proposed new build development would have an adverse impact on views to and from Craiglockhart Hill, as the elevated position means the buildings would be highly visible and exceed the height of all other nearby residential buildings.

7. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env3 as the proposals are detrimental to the appearance and character of several listed buildings.

8. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env6, as the proposals will have a negative impact on the appearance and character of a conservation area.

9. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env 11, which states “Planning permission will not be granted for development which would damage or detract from the overall character and appearance of the Areas of Great Landscape Value shown on the Proposals Map, prominent ridges, or other important topographical or landscape features.” The proposed development clearly detracts from the character and appearance of an area of great landscape value.

10. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan Env12, as it has a negative impact on trees within a conservation area which the proposed re-planting proposals do not ameliorate, particularly in the short to medium term as mature trees are being replaced by far smaller plants.

11. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env15, as it will have a detrimental impact on the flora, fauna and landscape of a local nature reserve.
12.  It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env16, as the proposals may have a negative impact on nesting birds, badgers and bats.

13.  It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Os 1, as the proposals involve the loss of open space with no significant benefits.

Developer’s Planning Statement

The developer’s Planning Statement sets out to prove that the proposed development is in accord with the development plan and, where this is not the case, there are material considerations which outweigh the policies and proposals in the development plan. 

Hopefully, the detailed objections above are enough to refute the claims made by the developers that the proposed development complies with the development plan.  The following section questions the heroic assumptions made by the developers with regards material considerations.

Paragraph 25 of the Scottish Planning Policy states that “material considerations should be related to the use and development of land”.  Clearly, the Scottish Government’s 2012-13 Programme for Government and Historic Scotland’s Corporate Plan 2012-15 do not meet this criteria and these document should be disregarded as material considerations.

The policies and proposals set out in the Strategic Development Plan and Edinburgh City Local Plan are already in accordance with the requirements of the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2, the Scottish Planning Policy and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy.  The national policies highlighted by the developers have been effectively incorporated into the development plan policies I have highlighted above and there is nothing new in the points raised under these headings that aren’t already covered in the development plan policies.

The English Heritage policy on enabling development is discussed above, it is clear that the new build elements of the proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development.

The Craiglockhart Hills Conservation Area Character Statement could not be clearer about the importance of the Craighouse site, stating:

“Views to the Hills from Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and Edinburgh Castle are also spectacular, in particular to Easter Craiglockhart Hill on which high quality Victorian buildings are set against a predominantly wooded hill, the woodlands emphasising the visual prominence of the site over the local surrounding area.”

It is clear that the new build development proposals would have a significant detrimental impact on these spectacular views.  The Character Appraisal goes on to state the following about the Craighouse site:

“The buildings form a homogeneous group round the old mansion, as they are closely related in design, layout and materials. This character has remained largely unchanged since the late 19th century. The conversion of the site by Napier University has maintained the essential historic and architectural character, and conserved and enhanced the surrounding landscape.”

Again, the new build proposals could only have a negative impact on the architectural character of this unique site.

The proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development or enhance the character of the conservation area and cannot be seen to meet the policies set out in PAN65 and PAN71 as claimed by the developer.

Transport

The Transportation Assessment which accompanies the planning application fails to take account of several factors that act against walking, cycling and public transport use from this site and significantly underestimates the number of car trips that the development would generate.  This is contrary to the key aims set out in the National Transport Strategy of improving journey times, reducing emissions and increasing access to public transport.   It is also contrary to policies set out in the Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019, which aims to encourage modal shift to active and sustainable modes, reduce car travel and reduce emissions. 

The errors/omissions in the Transportation Assessment include:

  • The straight line distance based walking isochrones set out in Figure 3.3 do not take account of the fact that Morningside Drive is a long, steep hill and that Craighouse Road is among the steepest roads in Edinburgh and only usable by the most able pedestrians. This results in a significant underestimate of the time taken to walk along these routes, e.g. it takes a fit adult at least 20 minutes to walk from the centre of the Craighouse site to Comiston Road and not 15 minutes quoted.
  • The straight line distance based cycling isochrones set out in Figure 3.5 do not take account of the fact that Morningside Drive is a long, steep hill and that Craighouse Road is among the steepest roads in Edinburgh and only usable by very fit cyclists. This results in a significant underestimate of the time taken to cycle up Morningside Dive and the fact that most cyclists in Edinburgh would choose to avoid Craighouse Road due to the gradient. 
  • Bus services near the site were reorganised on 1 June 2014. The site is no longer served by Lothian Buses 41.
  • Bus stops served by the replacement Lothian Buses 36 are a 5-10 minute walk from the proposed development and the service ends at around 2000 each night.
  • Most of the bus services mentioned in the transport appraisal can only be accessed from Comiston Road, which is approximately 20 minutes’ walk from the site. Significantly reducing their attractiveness.


Given these errors/omissions, it is highly unlikely that the modal share estimates for the site (24% bus, 9% walking and 3% cycling) would be met and it is likely that a far higher proportion of trips would be made by car than estimated.


It is also worth noting that these modal share estimates are far below the 2020 modal share targets for active travel set out in paragraph 2.3 of the Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019 (walk 36% and Cycle 10%).

It is clear that the transport assessment has also failed to consider the major congestion on Craighouse Road/ Myreside Road at the morning and evening peaks caused by parents and carers dropping off and picking up pupils from George Watson’s College – something that cannot be shown by simple traffic counts. This is a significant oversight, as additional traffic on these routes at these times will have a far greater effect on congestion in the area than assumed in the assessment.

Summary

In summary, I object to the proposed Craighouse development for the following reasons:


1. It is contrary to Strategic Development Plan policies.
2. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policies
3. It is contrary to Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019 policies
4. The new-build elements of the proposal do not meet the definition of enabling development
5. There are no material considerations which indicate that the development should be approved contrary to the numerous development plan policies which require its refusal.





[1] Meadow Heights, Q22 Level 02-04.  Checked on the Quartermile website on 30 May 2014
[2] Paragraph 5.12.2, Enabling Development and the Conservation of Significant Places, English Heritage,
[3] Paragraph 5.12.3, Enabling Development and the Conservation of Significant Places, English Heritage,

15 May 2014

Easy for some...

I've been enjoying reading about one Mum's attempt to go car-free for a week in North London.  She's chronicled her struggle against the default option of taking the car, and highlighted the mental switch required.  But there's also the environment to deal with - although the two are inter-related, with the choices made about schools and activities rather profoundly shaping your transport options.

All of which makes me realise how lucky we are - living fairly happily as a 4 person car-free household.  We would love a car for getting out of the city and exploring more, especially when we have visitors,  but in our day to day activities, we're not suffering.  

From our home to the nearest public pool is under a 1/2 mile., the nearest public library is only 1/4 mile away.  School is 3/4 mile, even if it is up hill, and nursery is a pleasant 1/2 mile  stroll (although we did spend 3 years doing a 6 mile roundtrip to the eldest's nursery...). Our longest regular journey is 2 miles to dance classes - most of which is along the canal. The spanner in the works tends to be unpredictable things like birthday parties - especially from the nursery kids who seem to come from miles around.  

But unlike subversive suburbanite  we rarely agonize about our transport choices, which makes it easier.  The kids know that if we have to get somewhere, they have to saddle up - they've never known anything different. I've not yet had had to force them kicking and screaming on to the bike - despite seeing too many parents struggling to strap kids into their car seats. 

If we're going into town, we get a bus and if the weather's really vile - gale force winds for instance -- we'll call a cab, but that's pretty rare.  It helps that other parents are very kind about offering lifts when needed, but also that I don't think we're seen as particularly unusual. We're certainly not the only family in the area without a car, and even those who do have one often choose not to use it. 

If it really were difficult to live without a car, we'd probably have buckled down, sorted our licences and joined the car club. But when the inconveniences only surface once or twice a year, and the benefits are manifold, it's actually pretty easy to stay car-free.