Forth 1 and 2 stations officially moved into a new home in the St James area on Friday after 47 years of broadcasting from Forth House and Playfair House, less than half a mile away.
Plans to repurpose B-listed buildings as aparthotels have drawn a mixed response, with neighbors worried about potential disruption from renovations and the “transitional population” the development would bring to the area.
Discussing proposals tabled by Supercity Aparthotels at a meeting on Wednesday June 15, councilors were caught up in a dispute over the number of parking spaces needed but unanimously agreed to give the green light.
The premium accommodation will include a shared lounge/bar, 24/7 reception facilities and a gym.
Plans say the front of Forth House will remain “essentially unchanged” with some minor modifications to the rear. Playfair House on Broughton St Lane will be ‘stripped of its superstructure’ to create a ‘new natural stone and precast concrete facade built to align with adjacent buildings’.
It is estimated that around 18 jobs will be created by the aparthotel, which will have parking for seven vehicles, instead of the current 24 spaces, including a parking space for disabled people and five charging stations for electric vehicles.
Speaking as the plans were presented to the Development Management Sub-Committee, SNP councilor David Key said he was ‘pleased’ that parking supply had been reduced, but asked: ‘Why have we we need parking at a city center aparthotel with transport links that are basically the door? »
He added: “I am very unhappy with this car parking malarkey, we are clearly bound by the guidelines written in various documents and I think we as a committee need to review these guidelines. There is no reason for a city center aparthotel to have parking spaces of this number unless they are for the disabled.
Cllr Lezley Cameron, Labour, replied: ‘Interesting phrase ‘malarkey parking’, this is a huge and serious problem, we are trying to encourage active travel and reasonable car use and all that, but people with mobility issues and mobility issues, everyone is different in terms of mobility needs.
“I welcome that there is a reduction in parking spaces which supports our objectives in terms of sustainability and active commuting and all that, but for my part I do not want to be part of a council or a planning authority that does not take seriously the needs and aspirations of people with permanent, temporary or unexpected mobility difficulties. We must also be aware of the needs of our citizens and visitors.
Kayleigh O’Neill of the Greens responded by pointing out that “not all disabled people use wheelchairs and not all disabled people are dependent on cars”.
Cllr O’Neill, a wheelchair user who testified to having “a great amount of lived experience”, added: “A large majority of people with disabilities in this town rely on buses, adapted bikes and stuff like that. So using disabled people to get more parking spaces is not helpful.
Fellow Greens councilor Chas Booth pointed out that several local residents are concerned about “the potential impact this change of use and development could have on their amenities”.
In an objection to council, a nearby resident said the noise from the renovations would be “extremely frustrating”.
They added: ‘There could also be an increase in noise from hotel guests against our communal wall. My partner and I are essential workers and need a quiet place to sleep and recuperate – not a home where we hear hotel guests talking and TVs blaring.
Another said the aparthotel would be ‘another development only attracting a transient population’
“We need more permanent residents (including families) living downtown,” they continued. “There are already enough, if not too many, such developments, i.e. hotels, hostels, airbnbs and student accommodation, in the immediate vicinity. The development is too big and, despite all the hype, will inevitably become another airbnb.
Highlighting projections which showed the development could result in a ‘reduction of 159 jobs and £11.411m from GVA per annum (2019 prices)’ Cllr Jo Mowat, Conservators, said: ‘I appreciate the uses are supported in this area, but we’re talking about a substantial loss of potential employment opportunities far greater than for an Aparthotel.”
She added: “We still need offices in the city, we still need that to be centrally located next to major transport links, that is.”
Planner Elaine Campbell replied, “The existing 159 full-time equivalent jobs have actually been moved less than half a mile, still downtown, I think, two blocks away, so we still have that revenue.
“I looked around this building, it wouldn’t be suitable as an office, it’s currently converted into a radio studio. The investment that would be required to bring it back to a class A office development, I don’t know if it would yield the same levels of numbers that economic development talks about.