Monday, 17 November 2008

UNESCO: 'calm end to the speculation'

The inspectors have come and gone. This report suggests they didn't think Edinburgh has done everything right - but they have no intention of calling into question the World Heritage Status of the Old and New Town. Now it is up to those who have been agitating for the review to decide whether they will gracefully accept the due process which led to Caltongate and the Tiger Project being passed. Except the Scottish Government has now instigated an enquiry into the latter - with all the delays that will entail.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's very nice of you to suggest those of us who oppose these developments have behaved in a anything less than a graceful manner up until now. We have a right to object to planning applications, and to disagree with your decisions.

Inviting UNESCO to visit is only to be expected. The fact that UNESCO decided to take up our numerous invites after looking at the details of the plans is something that should be taken seriously by your committee, and not to be brushed off by suggesting we start act as good losers.

You also don't seem to question your committee's decision in the light of the Executive's new inquiry into Haymarket. It's a very disappointing attitude and I'd hope that perhaps you should be acting with good grace by accepting the publics right to disagree with you, and that perhaps the Executive may have a good reason to review your planning decisions?

CR said...


Thanks for being in touch with your views.
There are many people who have differing views on these projects and that is in the nature of people. A dull world awaits when we all agree on everything. The burden of my concerns is that there must be a mechanism for resolving those differing views. Ultimately, with checks and balances, that mechanism is the planning committee - in all its imperfections. A careful look will see that not everyone on the committee agreed on these two key developments. But the mechanism is for due consideration followed by a vote. Having had the opportunity to input into the process leading up to that decision, some people, perhaps yourself included, not accepting the process for resolving differing views, have attempted to have the decision overturned by effectively appealing to UNESCO. That suggests to me a lack of perspective of the effect of the projects. It also suggests a reluctance to accept the legitimacy of the views of others. Of course you have a right to object to the planning applications. That was done and can I assure you those objections were considered with much care and attention. Of course you have a right to petition UNESCO. That doesn't seem to me to exhibit a particularly graceful approach to the views and decisions of others. You may have a right to petition them but they don't actually have a say after the decision is taken.

Certainly the Scottish Government's decision to call for an enquiry is well within the bounds of due process. But two things. I took a lot of care in considering the issues and the evidence and coming to the conclusion I did. The fact that the Government wants to appoint a reporter to have another look is no ground for changing my mind. I don't see anything has changed.

If you detected some sadness in my post it was because of the inevitable delay in progressing the project at this time when many people are feeling the effects of a recession which may well have far reaching and negative consequences on Edinburgh. I am also concerned about the long shadow cast by delays and uncertainty inherent in the planning system.

I hope that helps you understand my position.

Best wishes and thanks for being in touch.


Anonymous said...

That response seems to show a lack of understanding of why and how UNESCO came, at whose invitation, (possibly you could ask Historic Scotland?) and its role regarding World Heritage Sites.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your response, but I am still no more reassured that you, or your fellow committee members, have learned anything from this process, or even listened.

"have attempted to have the decision overturned by effectively appealing to UNESCO. That suggests to me a lack of perspective of the effect of the projects. "

I can't speak for everyone who wrote to UNESCO but I think it was precisely because people had a good grasp of the perspective of the effect of all the projects concerned that they contacted them. It wasn't just about overturning individual decisions, it was about a genuine long term concern over the direction the planning decisions were taking on such large developments in Edinburgh. And I believe the Council stated they invited UNESCO to Edinburgh, so are you suggesting your own employer is also lacking in grace and perspective? Regardless of which invite resulted in a visit, we (politicians and the people) have signed up to everything that comes with the benefits of living in and around a World Heritage Site so they are entitled to review our status, even if their report will have no direct impact on the Caltongate planning decision. If your committee and the Planning Dept. is not sending them details of large scale developments that are likely to have an impact on the World Heritage Site then they are entitled to be concerned, don't you agree?

As for long delays in the planning process, I think public opinion is possibly that if a proper, fair consultation was carried out before applications are submitted then dealing with objections after submissions would be less lengthy and perhaps not so onerous. If more time was spent with the community prior to submission, instead of just Planners and developers schmoozing, then perhaps some of the problems would be addressed? But, from my experience, it appears that large applications build up such a head of steam (particularly from developers using the press to spin their dreams) that by the time your committee meet Councillors can feel pressure to approve an application which is not as good as it could be, in an attempt to try and avoid another round of planning paperwork and unpopularity, and accusations of "far reaching and negative consequences on Edinburgh". I know the planning laws on consultation are changing, but I'd hope you would at least concede that the four developments reviewed by UNESCO fell under the existing consultation process, which is inadequate, and no doubt contributes to the bad feeling towards the Council's planning process.

Anonymous said...

(A different Anon:-) The reality is that Caltongate should have been notified to UNESCO long before any decison was taken, as a huge development which could impact negatively on the World Heritage Site. That is because as a 'member' of UNESCO we are a signatory to international agreements which makes that an obligation, not an afterthought. UNESCO expressed 'regret' at this omission, which is a strong statement for UNESCO. All the developments which UNESCO came to see were notified in April by the DCMS/HS. In addition, ICOMOS-UK, as it is required to do, sent a report to the UNESCO summer 2008 conference in Canada expressing concern.

At the conference, the international committee decided to ask the government if it would invite a mission to investigate. That is what happened, as that is protocol.

The fact that so many stakeholders in the WHS (which belongs to all people) also wrote expressing concern is something which UNESCO remarked on, and it is an expression of how much they care, but the reality is that a mission was bound to come given the number of notified developments with a potential impact and on which only UNESCO can rule what those impacts will be.

CR said...


Thank you again for engaging in a reasoned way. Let me deal briefly with the points you have made.
1. Your second post: That is a unfair. I am aware of the process which has been undertaken and the role of Historic Scotland in issuing the invitation on behalf of the 'state party' through which this request came. As I understand it at all stages the Council has been courteous, welcoming and co-operative of the UNESCO/ICOMOS request/visit.

Your 3rd post begins: 'I am still no more reassured that you. . . have learned anything from this process.' I have worked hard to understand the issues. I am local and spend many hours each week within a stone's throw of the Caltongate proposals. I know the area. Perhaps there are objections to the proposals that I have not understood. But it seems from what you say your meaning above is that I have not come round to the view that you hold. If that is the accusation I am guilty as charged.

I am surmising that the perspective you hold will have much in common with mine but will differ on some key points.

As to the campaign to get UNESCO to visit, your wording is revealing: 'It wasn't JUST about overturning individual decisions. . .' That seems to me to indicate that you concede the letter writing WAS (inter alia) to have the decisions overturned. If so that takes us back to where my comments started and it is you who misunderstand the role of UNESCO. The decision about what we do is and must be taken here.

As to your final sentence - you might want to restructure it so I can make sense of it. I'm not sure if you are saying the consultation was or was not fair and what you think UNESCO is the only party qualified to judge.

Best wishes, Cameron

CR said...

And to 'A Different Anon'

Thanks for joining in. All the points you make about the process are familiar to me. (Our planning staff excuse themselves by pointing out it was HS's responsibility to notify UNESCO) As I said before it was never my intention to give a commentary on the detail. The fundamental point is that decisions on planning issues are taken here in Edinburgh by this Council (with certain checks and balances eg appeal or referral to the Scottish Government). UNESCO can express a view about the implications for the WHS, they can lobby - they can withdraw the designation, but there requires to be a process to resolve differering views and that mechanism leaves some disappointed.

As things stand it looks like the visiting representatives of ICOMOS and UNESCO are taking the view that there is nothing to put WHS status under threat. If that is so then that will confirm my opinion - expressed above to Anon - that some of the objectors in trying to have the decisions overruled through the UNESCO process lack perspective.

CR said...

It would be nice to interact with someone who will identify themselves. Even a nom de plume!

Anonymous said...


I have been informed by Alan Henderson that no form of appeal is available to third parties on planning decisions. NONE.

Now I can see from the Council's on-line documents that this is not quite true and decisions which have been made by your committee are taken to the Executive for appeal and the results published. So, imagine the frustration as a "third party" who is unhappy with a planning decision, who is told there is absolutely no method of appeal by the Head of Planning when I can see this is not true.

I mention this to explain the frustration of being a resident and having to watch your committee make decisions we might not agree with. If I get a parking ticket, I can appeal. If I am imprisoned, I can appeal. But if you make a decision - rightly or wrongly - that affects both myself directly and the city I live in and truly adore living in, I am informed no appeal process is allowed. And I have no personal axe to grind with any private application being rejected or altered or anything like that, just to make it clear.

So, overlooking the fact I think Alan Henderson was not being entirely truthful or helpful, what would you do when faced with a decision you disagreed with, and you knew your fellow residents did not agree with (in fact the only people I know who did agree are the developers and architect)? You try and use any method, legal and democratic, available to you to advertise what is happening. Writing to UNESCO was not an attempt to overturn Caltongate and Haymarket planning decisions, since they were already a fait accompli according to the Council, and would never be overturned. But it could help when decisions are made for the other two developments, and future controversial developments. Just in course of a couple of months, the proposed "gherkin" at the new St. James Centre disappeared - who knows if this was in any way related to talk of UNESCO visiting? And Haymarket has been called in - totally unrelated? A gentle nudge to the Councillors of their responsibilities on a national and world level, as well as in Edinburgh, is what was intended, as is UNESCO's right.

I did, however, write to the Executive about Haymarket, and I asked my ward and constituency representatives to do the same, which they did. Now that really was about overturning a decision, since it was a real possibility that the plan would be called in, and it has. Don't confuse the different aims of writing to UNESCO and writing to the Executive.

I think you think that residents were trying to use UNESCO for their own individual benefit, which I personally don't think was the case (and UNESCO would not have played along with). People can have a genuine concern about the planning decisions in Edinburgh, and what our city will look like in 5, 10 or even 50 years time. Residents can have sincerely altruistic motivations as well as planning committees you know.

It also sounds to me that you see UNESCO's visit as a personal attack, perhaps on your decision and your committees (by telling us you think contacting UNESCO was not a graceful reaction to your decision). It's not an attack, it's an independent review of a World Heritage Site. Your interests overlap, and you may think of it as teacher looking over your shoulder, but that's your choice of how to react. I saw it is a genuine opportunity to get an outsider's view on whether our concerns for the long term plans for Edinburgh were fair and reasonable. And from what little we have both seen, I am reassured that we are right to be concerned. They don't threaten being put on the danger list lightly, and have said Edinburgh won't be at present, but we haven't seen the full report yet, have we? In a second Scotsman article (which you referred to on 18th Nov) you dismiss any criticisms under the title "Don't believe Everything You Read". And yet on the same day you are happy to believe the first article "Calm end to speculation" - presumably because that reported the outcome you wanted?

This has been a drawn out discussion, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I don't think any of the points I have been trying to make have been necessarily to change your mind, but to explain that we residents are as committed, and considered as you, and also have legitimate views and we use the routes we have available to us. I thought your comments have been very rather dismissive of attempts to dare question your decisions, which is very defensive attitude to take. Particularly since I assume your views should reflect and include those of your ward members? And suggesting that if we don't give up now we lack any grace, is pretty insulting. We are not your political opposition, we are your fellow residents, neighbours and voters, and we are entitled to our opinions too.

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