Plans to transform a radio station into a new hotel have been approved by planners.
The 55-room Supercity Aparthotel on Forth Street and Broughton Street Lane will be the first in Edinburgh.
It will include Playfair House and Forth House, which houses Radio Forth and will be aimed primarily at business travelers and guests staying for long periods.
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Forth House, which is a B listed building, will remain virtually unchanged to the front, preserving the historic building. Minor modifications to the rear are proposed. Playfair House, which has its entrance on Broughton Street Lane, will be stripped down and given a new natural stone and precast concrete facade to bring it into line with neighboring buildings.
The upscale aparthotel will have a 24/7 reception, a common lounge and bar area and a gym, and around 18 jobs will be created by the new operation.
Plans to repurpose B-listed buildings as aparthotels have met with 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 car park at the front of the building will be reduced from 24 to 7 spaces, including 5 with charging stations for electric vehicles. there will also be secure spaces for bicycles and additional spaces for cars in the basement of the building.
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 spaces in a city center aparthotel with transport links that are basically the door?
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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 why a city center aparthotel should have parking spaces of this number, unless they are for the disabled.”
Cllr Lezley Cameron, Labor replied: ‘Interesting phrase ‘malarkey parking’, this is a huge and serious issue, 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 travel and all that, but for my part, I do not want to be part of a council or a planning authority which does not take seriously the needs and aspirations of people with permanent, temporary or unexpected mobility difficulties. We must also consider 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 lot of lived experience”, added: “A large majority of people with disabilities in this town depend on buses, adapted bikes and stuff like that. So using people with disabilities to get more parking is not helpful.”
Chas Booth, an adviser to the other Greens, told the committee that according to Boogie in the Morning, Forth One’s breakfast show, ‘they don’t leave the building until Friday’.
He added, “I think even though the office has moved, the radio studio is still there.”
Cllr 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 noise from renovations would be “extremely frustrating”.
They added: “There could also be an increase in noise from hotel guests against our shared wall. My partner and I are essential workers and need a quiet place to sleep and recover – not a home where we hear hotel guests talking and televisions 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 media, will inevitably become another airbnb.”
Highlighting projections which showed the development could result in a ‘cut of 159 jobs and £11.411 million of GVA per annum (2019 prices)’ Cllr Jo Mowat, Tories, said: ‘I appreciate the uses are supported in this area, but we are talking about a substantial loss of potential employment opportunities, much greater than for an Aparthotel.”
She added: “We still need offices in the city, we still need them to be centrally located next to major transport links, that is.”
Roger Walters, Chairman of Supercity Aparthotels, said: “We are delighted that our aparthotel operation has been approved by the committee, which will preserve the fabulous Forth House. This is an excellent location for our first operation in Edinburgh, located close to the bustling city center and will also serve to benefit the community by reducing movement to and from the building than is currently the case.
“We look forward to starting work on site and will continue to engage with the community to ensure it is kept up to date as work progresses.”