Response to Portobello High School planning application

Dear PEDAL mem­bers and sup­port­ers,

Several people over the last day or so have asked ques­tions about PEDAL’s sub­mis­sion regard­ing the plan­ning applic­a­tion for the pro­posed new school in the park.  All sub­mis­sions are open to the pub­lic, and a copy of the let­ter which PEDAL sent is below.

This response was debated long and hard with­in the Board.  We felt that the energy and trans­port issues were so much part of PEDAL’s core pur­pose that not to com­ment on them would be odd and not in line with our mis­sion. However, we decided not to com­ment on the core issue of the school being built in the park as we were aware that our mem­bers had such diverse views on this mat­ter.  Our sub­mis­sion was not that we were opposed to the school in the park, but that we and our chil­dren deserve bet­ter if we are ever going to move towards a more sus­tain­able future.

Initially quite a few of the board mem­bers didn’t want to word our com­ments as ‘objec­tions’, but we under­stand that this is the lan­guage you have to use if you want the coun­cil to take any issues you raise into account. It is unfor­tu­nate that the sys­tem is set up to be so adversari­al — this approach would not be our choice.

We hope that this helps explain the decision that we took, and that we can con­tin­ue to work togeth­er for a sus­tain­able Portobello and a sus­tain­able new high school.

Please do con­tact me dir­ectly if you wish to dis­cuss this fur­ther jane [at] gn [dot] apc [dot] org

Yours,

Jane Lewis (Chairperson)

Please see below the text of our let­ter writ­ten to City of Edinburgh Council plan­ning depart­ment:

Dear Mr Bury,

PEDAL – Portobello Transition Town is work­ing towards a more sus­tain­able future for the com­munity of Portobello. As such, the fol­low­ing com­ments are made in rela­tion to the cur­rent pro­pos­al for a replace­ment for Portobello High School.

We wel­come and sup­port the invest­ment being made by the Council in a new high school in Portobello and believe that the new school should be designed in such a way that it has the least impact on the envir­on­ment and con­trib­ute to the sus­tain­able future that we all aspire to.

However, the energy per­form­ance and sus­tain­ab­il­ity stand­ard of the pro­posed build­ing would appear to be barely above that which is required by stat­ute and we object to the lack of innov­a­tion or sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion incor­por­ated in this new build­ing. As the build­ing will be with us for over 60 years it is imper­at­ive that this new civic build­ing should lead by example and aim for a zero car­bon foot­print. Only by doing so will we make sub­stan­tial reduc­tion in our reli­ance on fossil fuels.

There is a ref­er­ence to photo-vol­ta­ic cells, some heat recov­ery from the swim­ming pool and the ran­dom sedum roofs are included for sus­tain­ab­il­ity reas­ons but in total we object to the rel­at­ively poor con­tri­bu­tion that the new build­ing will make.

We object to a lack of com­mit­ment to a travel plan that would mean that all who are able to, walk or cycle to this site and thereby reduce con­ges­tion and harm­ful emis­sions. The traffic assess­ment states that this site is well served by buses and is also served by Brunstane rail­way sta­tion there­fore access is facil­it­ated by pub­lic trans­port. In par­tic­u­lar, the pro­posed pro­vi­sion of over a hun­dred car park­ing spaces works against the pro­mo­tion of pub­lic trans­port and is not in the spir­it of either the Council’s park­ing stand­ards nor the Council’s pro­mo­tion of act­ive travel plans.

Yours faith­fully,

Jane Lewis

Chairperson, PEDAL — Portobello Transition Town

14 responses to “Response to Portobello High School planning application

  1. Hi PEDAL,
    I am very glad you are here in our com­munity to cham­pi­on all things green and sus­tain­able. You have brought a great many pos­it­ive improve­ments to Porty and I hope you carry on doing so.
    I don’t think it is fair that people are cri­ti­cising you for rais­ing con­cerns about this or any oth­er Planning Application from a sustainable/green point of view — that is your role amongst many and I am very glad you are doing it.

    Looking for­ward to the organ­ic mar­ket on 5th -
    Roberta
    PS I don’t live near the Park!

  2. As I said on Facebook I think many par­ents, staff and chil­dren thought we were going to be able to have green tech­no­logy at the core of the prin­ciples and pri­or­it­ies for the new school and it will be a huge dis­ap­point­ment to all if this is now not the case.
    i would also hope that some “edu­ca­tion” work is done with par­ents from feed­er primar­ies as well as exist­ing par­ents so that we can min­im­ise the num­ber of young people being driv­en to school…possibly this is fam­il­ies from out­with the catchment/feeder primar­ies? i think PHS must have a good record for % walking/cycling to school and could be even more if par­ents could be encour­aged by the all round bene­fits? Now how do we con­vince the staff not to drive in???!!

  3. Hello
    I was also really sur­prised to note what you say above — that you felt your only option was to object. I don’t have any cam­paign / coun­cil exper­i­ence of affil­i­ation, just someone who hap­pens to live very close to the park, and it was really clear to me that I could choose to object, sup­port or com­ment on the pro­pos­als from the inform­a­tion avail­able in the gen­er­al com­munity and on the coun­cil web­site (I thought an organ­isa­tion such as yours would have had far more know­ledge / exper­i­ence in this area than me?). I have sup­por­ted PEDAL in the past, but this doesn’t feel right to me.
    Very dis­ap­poin­ted, and hope that you take some time to under­stand how you got into this pos­i­tion because for me, you have lost some of the valu­able cred­ib­il­ity and loc­al vis­ib­il­ity that you have gained over the last year with the loc­al mar­ket etc.
    Lins

    • Hi Lins,
      sorry you are dis­ap­poin­ted. This has been such a con­ten­tious issue with­in the loc­al com­munity that it was extremely dif­fi­cult to know how to respond on the real envir­on­ment­al con­cerns. PEDAL is in a very dif­fer­ent pos­i­tion from either the cam­paign for or against the school.
      We were of course aware of our options to sup­port, com­ment on or object to the applic­a­tion. However we decided that the only way for our con­cerns to be taken ser­i­ously enough was to word the sub­mis­sion in the way we did.
      We are aware that Portobello is a diverse com­munity with dif­fer­ent views and hope we can con­tin­ue to find ways of work­ing togeth­er whilst acknow­ledging our dif­fer­ences.

      • Jane — was any­thing sub­mit­ted as part of the pre-applic­a­tion con­sulta­tion?

        • Sean — PEDAL sub­mit­ted com­ments on a range of envir­on­ment­al issues as part of our vis­ion for a sus­tain­able future at an earli­er stage in the pro­cess.
          We didn’t sub­mit any­thing offi­cially from PEDAL as part of the pre-applic­a­tion con­sulta­tion although vari­ous mem­bers made sub­mis­sions indi­vidu­ally flag­ging up the points in our let­ter as pos­ted above. And yes, it prob­ably would have been bet­ter to have put some­thing in from PEDAL at this stage and to have con­sul­ted more widely with PEDAL mem­bers. To be hon­est I think we shied away from doing this because the issue had become such a hor­ribly divis­ive one. We talked about PEDAL play­ing a role in attempt­ing to enable both groups to listen to each oth­er and hear all the issues, but didn’t have the time to put into this giv­en the very ambi­tious pro­jects we have been work­ing on this year. And maybe things had gone too far for that to work any­way — who knows! 

          PEDAL is a mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tion and we are act­ively encour­aging more people to get more involved in all sorts of ways. The Board is elec­ted by the mem­bers at the AGM so I really hope more people will join, and that act­ive mem­bers will con­sider stand­ing for the Board.

          • It would seem, from what you say, that on reflec­tion PEDAL didn’t per­haps make the most of the oppor­tun­ity that arose dur­ing the con­sulta­tion peri­od to influ­ence the final out­come. Perhaps, with your par­ti­cip­a­tion, the final design could have been closer to what PEDAL would have con­sidered accept­able and it would not have been neces­sary to object to the applic­a­tion. You might even have sup­por­ted it.

  4. Very dis­ap­poin­ted in the stance taken but not sur­prised, giv­en that at least 2 mem­bers of the board are prom­in­ent PPAG sup­port­ers. Agree with Lee and feel that this will not be accep­ted or excused by the com­munity, includ­ing people like myself who are broadly sym­path­et­ic to your aims.

    • Hi Bob,
      Surprised you are dis­ap­poin­ted that PEDAL are tak­ing a stance for a more sus­tain­able, even bet­ter school. To be clear, and as stated in our let­ter to CEC, PEDAL are for a new school, we just think it could be more sus­tain­able.
      Slapping plan­ning con­di­tions on at this stage is not likely to get us there. Planing con­di­tions can be used to make minor tweaks to the exist­ing design and to ensure the build stage itself is well man­aged and the build­ing is well oper­ated but can’t ask for a fun­da­ment­al re-design of the school. I recently spoke with two archi­tects and anoth­er envir­on­ment­al expert who have all said that the envir­on­ment­al per­form­ance of the new build­ing will not be high. People are so caught up in the ‘your either for or against’ debate around the new school that I don’t think enough folk are look­ing past this to broad­er issues like sus­tain­ab­il­ity.
      BREEAM excel­lent rat­ing is all well and fine but is very much a tick box exer­cise —  the Scottish Parliament has this and is made of dense con­crete (very high embod­ied car­bon) and recently thermal images taken showed poor build­ing work had led to heat gush­ing from the win­dow and door frames. I don’t think the full life cycle costs (car­bon and fin­an­cial) have been taken into account for the new school. For example, Highland Council have just built a new primary school at Acharacle using a German build­ing meth­od that used wood for the entire struc­ture (versus steel — anoth­er mater­i­al with very high embod­ied car­bon) and no nails or screws — just glue and old fash­ioned join­ery. See http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/sustainability/acharacle-primary-school-sustainable-school-building-study/5208610.article for more. If they can man­age this why can CEC? The archi­tects for Acharacle (Edinburgh based Gaia Architects) state that the costs of build­ing much more sus­tain­able schools don’t always have to be high­er than main­stream designs.
      The renew­able energy study that CEC com­mis­sioned is severely lack­ing — it recom­mends a few photo­vol­ta­ic cells. PEDAL know from our own stud­ies that you’d need to cov­er most of the school’s roof in these to make any kind of dent in the elec­tri­city demand at the school and — des­pite the healthy Feed in Tarriff — PV cells are still a very expens­ive way of gen­er­at­ing renew­able energy in terms of pound inves­ted for tonne of car­bon saved. Covering the roof would cost sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand pounds. In fact this idea is begin­ning to look very like the ‘eco-bling’ that many archi­tects are now against — i.e. a vis­ible state­ment say­ing ‘we’re green’ which does in fact very little in real­ity. Also, I would be very sur­prised if PV cells actu­ally make it to the con­struc­tion stage — as the budget is increas­ingly squeezed and oth­er costs escal­ate (as they will) this is exactly the kind of remov­able fea­ture that will get stripped out from the final design. I’ve seen this hap­pen in many oth­er well-mean­ing build­ing designs. We need use of more pass­ive energy effi­cient design and mater­i­als incor­por­ated into the building’s basic design.
      On the traffic side, it’s now well under­stood in the traffic plan­ning field that you can’t just ensure a site is well served by pub­lic trans­port (or is cyc­lable or walk­able to) and then hope people will make that choice over using the car, while on the oth­er hand provid­ing over 100 car park­ing spaces! You need to act­ively pro­mote (and make attract­ive) altern­at­ive modes of travel while mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to use undesir­able modes like the car. Reducing park­ing spaces should be the first step.
      Yes we have some PPAG mem­bers on our Board but PEDAL are not cam­paign­ing against a new school and have stayed silent on the issue of loc­a­tion. If we are guilty of any­thing then as Jane say it’s not find­ing the time to con­sult our mem­bers more widely and engage more fully in the debate around sus­tain­ab­il­ity of the school design. And if PEDAL aren’t going to stand up for sus­tain­able design in our com­munity, who is?

      • Tom, your com­mit­ment to the cause is admir­able. If only your ideal­ism was tempered with a little real­ism. So the design, in terms of sus­tain­ab­il­ity, is excel­lent but not per­fect and there­fore you feel unable to sup­port the applic­a­tion. All very well and I accept your prin­cipled stance. But you went fur­ther than that, no doubt influ­enced by those die-hard PPAG sup­port­ers on the board, and actu­ally objec­ted. Your objec­tion jeapord­ised the chance of the applic­a­tion being suc­cess­ful. The time for your expert input re sus­tain­able design was dur­ing the design con­sulta­tion. We don’t live in a per­fect world and the new school will be a huge improve­ment on the cur­rent one and pretty much state of the art for cur­rent school design.

        • Hi Bob,
          we are aware that any response PEDAL made on this issue would not please some mem­bers of the com­munity — largely due to the very oppos­i­tion­al tone of the debate.
          We did our best on what was always going to be a con­tro­ver­sial issue, and will aim to learn from the pro­cess as always.
          PEDAL did not align itself either with the PPAG stance or to the New Portobello High School in the Park Group as you will see from read­ing our response. We made our own response in way that we felt best met our aims with­in the lim­it­a­tions of the cur­rent plan­ning sys­tem. It may be that there was a bet­ter way of doing this, but we did the best we could at the time with the advice we had.
          We need to change the way we live if we are going to respond to cli­mate change in a mean­ing­ful way, and we need to find ways of doing it togeth­er as a com­munity, even when we dis­agree. This is and always has been PEDAL’s aim. And as we all know it isn’t easy!

          Very much hope this doesn’t pre­vent you enga­ging with PEDAL in the future. 

          Happy to dis­cuss more face to face if that would be help­ful.

  5. That’s unfor­tu­nate Jane — you could have made a gen­er­al com­ment (neither sup­port or object) or a sup­port­ing com­ment ask­ing for con­di­tions to be attached. You don’t need to object for your voice to be heard. A num­ber of the con­di­tions added to the plan were based on points made by sup­port­ing rep­res­ent­a­tions.

    It’s my under­stand­ing that if all the sus­tain­ab­il­ity schemes incor­por­ated in te design work to plan then the build­ing will have an “excel­lent” rat­ing, oth­er­wise “very good”?

    • Thanks for your com­ments, Lee.
      That’s inter­est­ing and dif­fer­ent to what we’d under­stood. I think the main learn­ing for us here is to make sure we allow plenty of time to con­sult more fully with all mem­bers over issues like this in the future so we can pool our thoughts and know­ledge and find the best ways of push­ing for great­er sus­tain­ab­il­ity.

      • Hi Jane; Definitely — learn from it and move for­ward.

        Now the applic­a­tion has been gran­ted I’m sure there are many oppor­tun­it­ies for PEDAL to work with the developers and school to ensure the new build­ing is the best it can be. Perhaps you can also advise on the upkeep of the “beefed up 50% Millennium plant­ing”, and so help it flour­ish?

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