Welcome new housing at Station Road

WP_20140723_019I supported the recent application for 17 houses at Station Road on the grounds that this would have a positive impact on the local economy and bring much needed higher quality housing closer to the centre of Dunbar. Moreover the new residents might not be so dependent on the private car, being proximate to the Rail Station and only a few minutes walk to the High Street. But our local Councillors on the planning committee – such a forward looking lot – were minded to turn down the application on the grounds that the old Local Plan foresaw this area of private land becoming a car park, despite advanced proposals existing for developing a major facility next door. OK they went against advice from their own officers and stranger things have happened in Dunbar.

I had some concerns about the visual impacts on the Dunbar Conservation Area, which the Council seemed to overlook, the loss of the long views from the finger post and other local amenities, the weak sustainability implied in the proposals and the car parking. But also the traffic generation around the new junction that would be created on Countess Road and consequent issues arising around safety for pedestrians and cyclists accessing the station (have you ever noticed how awkward it is to cross safely as cars speed around the Abbey Church island?).

The good news is that the developer appealed and Scottish Ministers appointed a Reporter to determine the decision, which was overturned in the developer’s favour. The bad news is that that Reporter was minded to ignore comments for mitigating the impacts that I had highlighted, so we’ll see a further erosion of the quality of the Dunbar Conservation Area along with the loss of views. If you are at all doubtful about this, head over to the finger post on a clear day and you’ll see what will be lost – the high wall taken down and the skyline replaced by rooftops. There were also some big missed opportunities to make this a truly “sustainable” development with stronger measures to manage pedestrian and cyclist safety, reduce the number of cars. Few developers have imaginative proposals though – so why doesn’t the Council raise the bar? I recently visited a scheme in North Berwick, built by the Council, which attempts this – though I personally was distraught by the low proportion of greenspace in private and public areas despite the stunning setting – there was still more road than garden!

Increasingly few people seem to give a monkeys about the look of the old town, the chronic lack of greenspace and the traditional backlands (the Council would love to bulldoze a road through them). This is not just a shame, as the old town is its main attraction, it is plain daft. Perhaps paving over even more gardens and backlands and creating more space for cars will seal its fate, forever. Another supermarket, perhaps – just make sure it is cheap? Before long I foresee the Conservation Area designation will be removed entirely. Progressively, poor decisions, weak enforcement, and inadequate overall maintenance by private sector landlords on the one hand and the Council’s responsibility for the public realm on the other, will lead to its eventual death, by a thousand cuts.


 

I sent the following for the attention of the reporter:

I strongly support the principle of additional quality housing close to the centre of Dunbar, within easy walking distance of the town amenities and public transport connections. Lower density development should generally be supported for infill areas, as densities in the town are already very high and impinge on the availability of private and public greenspace. There would be a positive improvement in the local economy.

The proposal as it stands will alter the character of the Dunbar Conservation Area (DCA) significantly, so modifications and mitigation are suggested to minimise the impact. Development in the Conservation Area should add to the long-term interests and characteristics of the designation, demanding imaginative ways of enhancing the characteristics of this distinctive part of the DCA and compensating for the loss of open space.

The development appears to meet basic levels of sustainability, which is good, but appears not to have been future-proofed – merely meeting current building standards may not help the development stand the test of time.

The junction onto Countess Road is notoriously difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to cross as the main desire lines are to and from the central island containing the Abbey Church, which will become even more isolated if a new junction is formed here.

The development of significant car parking at Foggo’s Yard means that the Ashfield site will not be needed for car parking, which is adequately met by existing arrangements for most users.

1.   Visual appearance & impact on Conservation Area

The Dunbar Conservation Area Management Plan envisages that the high walls of Ashfield be retained. This proposal as it stands will substantially alter the character on this boundary of the Dunbar Conservation Area. The current relatively open skyline and long views between mature trees will be lost. The traditional high wall replaced with an open junction and new views profiled by modern housing, as typically built in volume. The high walls in this part of the town are the main distinguishing characteristic and while a modern building would not be out of place, it would need to be designed appropriately (materials and forms). The long views towards the Lammermuirs and Traprain Law from the Bowling Club and the Royal Macintosh will be substantially lost.

Measures should be taken to soften and / or to mitigate the visual impacts by either moving the entrance to the development entirely or by retaining much more of the wall, which will effectively act as a screen. The paved areas on Countess Road should be retained continuous (see also below). The gateway to the development might even be moved to the station turning circle, which would make the site rather more exclusive (though I understand there could be a problem with levels) but residents could then also have pedestrian access to the town via a discrete gate at the top of Station Road. The existing entrance here, via the wooden gate is planned to be walled up, whereas this could be widened to form the entrance or an exit. The pillared access to Ashfield Cottage, which itself is screened by a hedges, could form a natural entrance to a one way system to retain the high wall views.

The proposed wide sweeping entrance (easy for drivers) doesn’t seem to be in keeping with new design guidelines[1], which emphasise tighter junctions for pedestrian safety. Larger specimen trees could be used to screen the entrance to the development.

The garden area and open spaces generally (relative to the number of buildings, garages and car parking) is somewhat low for the setting. This is one of the few relatively open areas of the Dunbar Conservation Area. Despite the high walls the trees and open views imply openness on the south-western boundary of the DCA, so development will mean the loss of yet another open space close to the centre of Dunbar, already poorly endowed according to the most recent audit[2]. There is so very little open space and trees in and around the centre of Dunbar itself, with most of the important interest and visual contributions arising from individual gardens or suites of private gardens/land (namely backlands), where general development rights have consequently been suspended.

The few trees that surround the field at Station Road add positively to the character to the location. No specimen trees should therefore be removed and those trees that are removed should be replaced – like for like, not with poor substitutes such as dwarf garden or amenity specimens. Reduced parking and more gardens and formal tree planting would allow the development to mature over time and blend in with the DCA and make up for the loss of views from viewing points at the Bowling Club and from the Royal Macintosh Hotel.

Development in the Conservation Area should not detract from it, but enhance and complement existing features for future generations. Visible facades of buildings should be designed appropriately using appropriate materials and forms.

2.   Sustainability

The proposal appears to meet current sustainability criteria (parking aside), but only minimally. Here is an opportunity for a major sustainable development, which could incorporate new approaches to waste and water management and possibly low key energy generation and certainly to sustainable transport given the proximity to the station, the town itself and generally good bus connections. Dunbar is also relatively flat and consequently has a large cycling community.

3.   Traffic generation and road safety & Impact of increased activity

Other sustainability dimensions such as transport are not elaborated as well as they could be, despite the advantageous position of the location. For example, car parking levels are set at the maximum to meet current guidelines, when a lower level might well be acceptable, given the easy access to public transport connections. Could all the properties be fitted with electric car charging points? There are 4 vehicles available in the local car club within a few minutes or so walking distance. I understand that club membership is growing and new cars are likely to be purchased. Safety is another concern.

Given the proximity to the centre of town and the station, with improving rail services and good bus connections there seems to be little objective need to provide the maximum number of parking places. A lower allocation would help reduce unnecessary journeys by car and minimise traffic generation.

Traffic at the Station Road junction is often increasing in speed so the creation of a new wide sweeping junction is not helpful. Not only are sightlines to oncoming traffic poor, but there is no consideration for pedestrians in the design of the street (this is not strictly the fault of the developer of course). A more discrete entrance or less accessible entrance will prevent it being used for illegal parking acts or dangerous manoeuvring and would be more in keeping with current design guidelines. The current proposal would remove a large amount of pavement and landscaped plantings, where it forms a natural pedestrian desire line from the central triangle/island containing the Abbey Church to the station. It is the only section that is easy to cross with good visibility. It is suggested that retaining a continuous pavement – or raised table might be a compromise, notwithstanding the comments above about creating alternative access and retaining the high walls in full.

Removal of the high walls during construction phase and consequent construction traffic will create a temporary and significant impact on pedestrian and cyclist safety.

4.   Car parking

The local plan refers to the use of this land for car parking, but there has never been any attempt at making this plot into a public car park. None of the recent research reports refer to the site as a potential car park (Colin Buchanan and Associates or the recent Traffic Regulation Order), nor are there public recommendations to reserve it for the future.

Existing car parking for town users is significantly underutilised at most times of the day. Car parking for station users has reached a maximum and impinges, but not much, on availability for town users and residents on Countess Road, though almost all residents here have access to their own private parking as well as benefiting from ample public places.

There are advanced proposals being discussed by ELC Transport Division[3], which suggests there is no valid reason to object on these grounds.

5.   In summary

This development should be supported in principle, with modifications and conditions. The development should aim to enhance the Conservation Area by incorporating appropriate good design principles, it should aim to increase the sustainability of the development (e.g. reduce unnecessary car journeys/increase patronage of public transport), and it should ensure that the Station Road junction is made safer for pedestrians and cyclists, which currently it is not. Objections that parking needs are more important that housing needs are not just questionable, but specious.

[1] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/307126/0096540.pdf

[2] http://www.eastlothian.gov.uk/downloads/file/5167/dunbar_cluster_summary and http://www.eastlothian.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/5166/open_space_strategy_report_draft_jan_2012

[3] http://abbeylandsresidents.org.uk/in-praise-of-transportation/

http://abbeylandsresidents.org.uk/dunbar-station-car-park/

 

 

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templar

passionate about the new and the old, but only if it is any good