Dr Scott Arthur

Firrhill & Boroughmuir – Two Great Schools Fast Running Out of Space


The May 2019 “Education, Children and Families Committee” will consider a report entitled “Item 7.2 – Future Statutory Consultation Requirements” which sets out the need to consults on a number a key school projects in our capital – Replacement of Newcraighall Primary School; New Maybury Primary School; Edinburgh Park catchment review; New Builyeon Road Primary School; and, Kirkliston (future primary and secondary provision).

The report also, however, touches on rising secondary school rolls:

“The schools where options exist to address capacity pressures through statutory
consultations are Broughton High School, Firrhill High School and Craigmount High
School. The School Estate Planning Team will begin an engagement process with
these schools and if statutory consultations are required, draft papers will be
presented to a future Committee for consideration. “

Of key interest to me here is inclusion of Firrhill High School as it serves a large part of my ward.


Firrhill HS is fed by 5 primary schools, 4 of them are in my Ward: Bonaly, Colinton, Pentland & Oxgangs (part of the catchment is outside my Ward).

Firrhill has a notional capacity of 1150, but currently has 1180 pupils enrolled and will rise to 1222 next year. Potentially a review of Firrhill’s catchment could conclude transferring one of the feeder primaries to another high school catchment would solve the problem.


Firrhill’s catchment adjoins that of 6 other high schools: Currie, WHEC, Forrester (just), Tyncastle, Boroughmuir and Gracemount.

The options for a transfer, however, are limited and we know from last year that school communities don’t always embrace attempts to tinker with catchments.


Whilst Firrhill is overcapacity, the prediction is for only limited further growth. Boroughmuir, however, will expand significantly in the coming decade.

The elephant in the room with the Firrhill roll is Redford Barracks. This facility is scheduled to close in 2022 and it is likely at least some of the site will be redeveloped as housing over the following decade (on average every 100 houses generates 23 secondary school pupils). It’s therefore right to look seriously at  Firrhill’s capacity.


Firrhill’s capacity has been exceeded, but remains relatively constant. The situation is different at Boroughmuir where significant growth is predicted.

Data published by the Council suggests that WHEC, Forrester & Tynecastle all have spare capacity to take part of Firrhill’s catchment. Forrester must be excluded, however, as future development in its catchment will consume much of its spare capacity. Nonetheless, by 2028 WHEC and Tynecastle combined will have spare capacity of 535. Indeed, Tynecastle or WHEC alone  could easily accommodate Longstone pupils to help Firrhill return to its notional limit until the Redford development comes online.


Running in parallel to this Boroughmuir – a new school that was full the day it opened which now has an extension planned which will also be full the day it opens. Again, Tynecastle could take the pressure off Boroughmuir after its extension opens.

Using Tynecastle or WHEC in this way may not be popular, but it will save the Council money and help it meet its climate change targets (construction consumes a lot of energy). However, that may be balanced by increased travel costs and road safety issues.

The big uncertainty remains Redford Barracks – this may prove to be the catalyst for real change. There are only two real options to deal with this as far as I can see:

  1. The creation of a new school to accommodate Buckstone, Pentland & Oxgangs Primaries. This would leave the existing Firrhill building to accommodate  Colinton PS, Bonaly PS, Longstone PS &  Redford Barracks. This would solve the problem at both Firrhill & Boroughmuir. 
  2. Converting Firrhill to a “super school” to accommodate  Redford Barracks in addition to the existing catchment (and perhaps even Buckstone PS).

Again, these options would not be universally popular and both would need significant space (and funding). If only a building was nearby with a listed parade ground which could be converted to a fantastic school…


Redford Barracks – The building is listed as well as the playground, sorry, parade ground.


I don’t have one. Whatever happens next, it is important that school communities are consulted and we have to respect the fact that school catchments have evolved over time to become an important part of what defines our neighbourhoods.


Dealing with graffiti in Edinburgh (and elsewhere)


It is estimated that the UK spends £1 billion per year cleaning up graffiti. In London alone £100 million is spent, with £10 million of that being accounted for by London Underground. Nationally, Network Rail spends £3.4 million annually.

Of course, Edinburgh has no shortage of graffiti with the Council receiving hundreds of complaints per year.  The Council will, however, deal with graffiti on property it owns. If you see any, please report it here ASAP. The Council will remove racist or offending graffiti withing 24 hours, everything else is dealt with within two weeks.

All other graffiti must be dealt with by the owners of the property (but the Council can force some types of private land owners to act).

Therefore, if you see graffiti you are concerned about, please contact the property owner directly and ask them to take action. I tried this with a spate of graffiti on my Ward (on Woodhall Road) and I was impressed with the outcome – details below.


SP Energy Networks – Just call 0800 092 9290 with details of the exact location. 


BT Open Reach – Just Call 0800 023 2023 and select option 1. Most BT boxes are clearly marked. 

Virgin Media

Virgin Media – Just Call 0330 333 0444 with the exact location. Virgin Media boxes often have a small logo at the end.


Briefing – Raising a further £150k from catering concessions in Edinburgh’s parks.


An example of a catering concession.

Below is a briefing on the plan to raise a further £150k from catering concessions in Edinburgh’s parks. In my Ward , I understand Spylaw & Colinton Mains Parks are being considered – I have asked that the Community Councils are consulted. If there is community support, I have nothing against this. However, I hope it’s ice cream and coffee, rather than burgers and chips that are sold. 

To deliver a city-wide Parks, Greenspace and Cemeteries service we are required to generate more income.  An additional £150,000 from catering concessions operating within our parks is required for 2019/20 and while a re-tendering of existing concessions has contributed to the total more income is urgently required.

In support, Park Officers have identified local parks as having potentially suitable locations for hosting catering concessions:

The intention would be to allow a small/medium sized temporary mobile catering unit within each park to sell food and drinks from a location agreed by the Park Officer.   The concessions will be for one-year running July-June with options to extend for a further 2 years.

Tenderers will be invited to provide a service that will:

  • be sensitive to the historic and/or greenspace that they occupy
  • provide an inviting environment which adds to the location in which they operate
  • offer a range of high quality food and beverages at a range of prices
  • offer a choice of healthy food and drink options
  • support locally sourced and Scottish produce and products
  • be proactive in taking measures to be environmentally responsible

I hope that you will be supportive of this initiative as it is an important aspect of income generation for the service and it will provide a valuable presences and resource within each park.

Edinburgh Polling Station Briefing

Poll Station

With the EU Election fast approaching, I have had a few e-mails this week about the location of Polling Stations. Ironically the Council was about to commission a full review of Polling Stations (including a public consultation), but that has now been delayed due to the unexpected (but welcome)  EU Election! Below is a briefing from the Council on the issue.

You should check your Polling Card, but as far as I know the polling stations in my Ward are as listed here

Polling Places are determined by decision of Council. The Council has a responsibility to split each ward into Polling Districts and then allocate a Polling Place per District. Those selected are the most accessible and well located buildings in the area. The focus is on the voter trying to ensure that as many voters as possible turn out to vote by providing them with a well sited building that is easy to access and sufficiently large for the voters who are allocated there.

By law the Council has to review its allocation of polling places periodically. The last full review of the Polling Arrangements in Edinburgh was in 2013. The next review is scheduled for later this year. It was due to be initiated in this Spring, but the European Parliamentary Elections have delayed that. When the new review starts there will full public consultation with an opportunity to propose new venues. Staff in the elections team constantly review provision and take account of objections and complaints. Where schools are used they will have been determined to be the most appropriate venue in terms of location, capacity and access. Until then we will be using the Polling Places that the Council has previously identified. Changes would be subject to a decision of Council or an emergency decision taken by the Lord Provost and Chief Exec.

In the Election Team we do appreciate the disruption that can be caused to children’s education by the closure of schools to allow polling. I am also aware of the impact on parents and carers who need to arrange alternative childcare. However, the Council has identified polling places that serve the electors of a local area in an effort to support democracy and promote participation. We are also aware that changing polling places can impact negatively on turnout so that is also considered.

You will be aware that for scheduled election the Council has made an effort to align in service training days with polling day. However, for unscheduled events such as this, unfortunately it is necessary to close the schools that are used as polling places.

Finally I would note that Poll Cards have now been printed and will be posted this week so we it is now too late to change the polling places that have been identified for these elections.


Edinburgh Airbnb – A briefing on the problem and the powers Edinburgh needs to deal with it.


I received this today – It’s concerning to see the impact on the homes available for rent. 

This briefing note provides a summary of the impact of Short Term Lets (STLs) on Edinburgh and an update on the Council current enforcement and proposed regulatory powers.

Main Briefing

Impact of short term lets on supply and housing costs
Recent analysis (using Airbnb data) published in April 2019 by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has shown that were over 12,000 registered Airbnb properties in Edinburgh in 2018. This figure is a significant increase from research available to the Council where the overall number was calculated at approximately 9000 registered properties in 2017. The increase of Airbnb properties has continued to grow each year from 2009 when there were a total of 8 registered properties in the city. Airbnb reports that 21% of the 9,000 properties (1,890) registered in 2017, operate in excess of 90 days or more, which would indicate they are no longer being used on a residential basis

The research available indicates that short term lets are predominately located within the City Centre and adjoining areas. Analysis from the Chartered Institute of Housing identified that there are two Airbnb lets for every 13 homes within City Centre Ward 11.

Analysis of the housing market impacts in Edinburgh carried out in 2018 showed that the rapid growth in short term lets over a short period was having an impact on both supply and rent levels. There are over 60,000 private rented sector (PRS) homes in Edinburgh, which represent a quarter of the city’s housing. Presently there is an estimated loss of 10% of the PRS sector attributed to short term lets. The loss of traditional PRS properties is more prevalent in the city centre and in the north of the city, with the loss of stock running at up to 30% in some northern parts of Edinburgh.

Across the city, PRS stock levels fell c.5-6% between 2014-2017 which may be attributable to a number of factors including changes in taxation and regulation of PRS. However, it should be noted that over the same period the city saw 2,700 more properties per year listed as available on Airbnb, while PRS stock fell 560 per annum. Research continues to take place to better quantify the loss of PRS properties to short term lets industry.

The speed and size of rent increases within the city continue to be a substantial issue which the city encounters. Research indicates rising rents occurring in those areas bordering a high concentration of Airbnb, suggesting a displacement of demand. In those areas bordering the city centre, rents have increased around 20-27% over the period 2014-17.

Existing powers available to the Council
A Short Term Lets Virtual Team has been created to co-ordinate action using existing powers across several services. The Regulatory Services Manager leads this team, with a team leader from Planning acting as a day to day manager. The following resources in terms of front line staff contribute to the team:

  1. Trading Standards;
  2. Environmental Health;
  3. Private Rented Services;
  4. Planning;
  5. Community Safety;

The virtual team review all complaints received about short term lets and, where possible, identify and implement a response to address poor practice through any powers available to the Council. The team also encourage good practice and assist in collecting intelligence on how the short term industry responds to this approach.

The team prioritises enforcement activity in relation to those short term lets believed to be operating on a commercial basis.

Most of the cases investigated by the team have involved consideration of planning enforcement action. Since July 2018, 126 new cases have been opened and while 71 are ongoing, 22 have been subject to enforcement action. When investigating the cases, it must be established whether the use of a residential premises for short term holiday lets is a material change of use. The question of materiality is one of fact and degree having regard to a number of factors such as the character of the property, the frequency of arrivals and departures, the number of people occupying the property, disturbance to neighbouring residential amenity. Evidence gathering can be a very difficult process. Case officers must consider each of the above factors. This can involve a number of visits to check levels of occupation and to collect corroborative evidence to support any claims of noise and nuisance.

Since 2018, 22 enforcement notices have been served, 8 have been appealed and all 8 have been upheld by Scottish Government reporters. There has been legal challenges in respect of the reporters’ decisions at Chancelot Terrace and Baxter’s Place. Chancelot Terrace was withdrawn and Baxter’s Place is due to be heard at the Court of Session. During this period there has also been planning appeal decisions against refusals to grant planning permission and certificates of lawfulness for short stay let uses. These decisions have typically allowed short term let uses in main door properties.

The reporters’ decisions have informed an understanding of when a change of use may be material but, also through the planning appeal decisions, when a short stay let use may be acceptable. This makes it easier to know when to take action moving forward and should lead to action being taken more quickly. This is reflected in the fact that 11 notices have already been served in the first 3 months of this year, the same number for the whole of 2018. In addition in-house training is being put in place to ensure that the officers take a more consistent and robust approach to investigations moving forward.

The virtual team is looking at new ways of working in response to the growth of short stay lets. It is trialling the use of an impact warning letters to tackle a large concentration of short stay lets at Western Harbour. Working with residents and the property factor, over 40 letters have been sent out to the owners of the flats in question to highlight the permissions and other various legal requirement they may be breaching and requiring that the use cease. The owners have until the 30 April 2019 to reply but responses so far indicate that the trial may be worth pursuing.

A Checklist of Best Practice has also been produced to inform owners of their legal obligations in terms of permissions, safety at the property and managing visitors. This guidance is aimed at educating owners and prospective operators to their obligations to not only their tenants but also the wider community. This form of self – regulation can have an important role to play in limiting the growth of inappropriate forms of short term let uses.

The planning service has also piloted taking enforcement action against key safes on listed buildings. This resulted in the enforcement notice for the removal of 11 key safes attached to a listed building at 1 Upper Bow being upheld on appeal. The success of this pilot highlights that in certain circumstances it can be appropriate to take action against multiple key safes on a single property.

Ahead of the summer period, the virtual team have been making arrangements to deal with an anticipated increase in the number of complaints. It is hoped this proactive approach will help to identify and tackle the most troublesome cases and provide residents with a satisfactory service.

Proposals for further regulatory powers
Taking into account the issues and proposed actions outlined above, it remains clear that the Council lacks specific regulatory powers which would allow it to effectively respond to all the issues currently faced by the City. Previous research has been reported to a number of committees offering comparison with how other major cities and tourist destinations have dealt with similar issues.

It is clear that, as pressures from the operation of short term lets mount on a city or region, the vast majority of major destinations have resorted to new or additional statutory powers. These powers typically impose a cap on the total number of properties used as short term lets, and/or a cap on the number of days that an individual property can be used as a short term let. The motivating factors are very similar to the issues faced by this council, namely a desire to protect the supply of residential homes and to minimise the disruption to local communities.

The Council has therefore requested that the Scottish Government introduces a discretionary licensing system for operators of short term lets. The Council would expect that each individual local authority could consider the relevance of the licensing system and choose whether to adopt the scheme in its area. At a minimum the licensing system must be capable of the following:

  1. A licence will be for both the individual property and the owner or operator of that property;
  2. Any owner or operator shall be fit and proper;
  3. The local authority shall have the discretion within the licensing system to control or otherwise cap the number of properties licensed either across the local authority area or in specific areas of the local authority;
  4. A licensed property must meet certain safety standards, e.g. gas appliances must be safety checked;
  5. The location, character and suitability of properties will be relevant;
  6. A licence will be required for anyone either operating a property on a commercial basis or in excess of 45 days.

The exact scope of any licensing system would ultimately be the decision of the local authority, and after consultation it is anticipated that a policy would be adopted to set out a local position. It is recommended that the preferred method of introducing a licensing system is by means of regulations introduced by Scottish Government under Section 44 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Amending the licensing system for HMOs under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 is the least preferred option, as this could have wider implications for unrelated housing matters, and the licensing scheme under the Act applies Scotland-wide. Failing this the Council would ask for fresh legislation as an alternative.

Update – Boatel Planning Application outside Boroughmuir High School, Edinburgh


The plan to have “boatels” on the canal outside Boroughmuir High School came before the planning committee this week.

376 representations were received, of which 374 are were OBJECTIONS, including those from Tollcross Community Council, the Gilmore Place and Lochrin Residents’ Association, local residents, school parents and boat owners. Despite this, it was recommended to the Committee that planning permission be GRANTED.

As a Councillor for the Ward the school sits within, Gavin Corbett asked that a planning “hearing” was held. This would have given Community Groups and the BHS Parent Council the chance to make their case to the committee, but the request was refused. Given the extent of the opposition to this proposal, declining a hearing simply helps undermine local democracy. Many BHS parents (I am one), were keen that a hearing was held so this decision can be subjected to detailed public scrutiny.

If you watch the video, however, you will see that it was concluded that the decision be “continued” (i.e. delayed) so that a site visit can be undertaken.

However, Cllr Corbett is reporting that the visit will be just 15 minutes long – 4pm – 4:15pm on the 1st of May. Nonetheless, I want to thank Cllr Corbett for all the work he has done on this.

The Mothercare Jive Stroller is one of the smallest and most popular buggies… but it’s too big for Lothian Buses!


The Mothercare Jive Stroller is one of the smallest and most popular buggies.

Regular readers of this blog will know I have raised a number of concerns about the accessibility of Lothian Buses new 100 seat bus – the Enviro400XLB.

I raised concerns about the lack of buggy space in November, but was  reassured in December that a shared space could accommodate both a buggy and a wheelchair. However, in my most recent blog I revealed that Lothian Buses where now claiming only smaller buggies could now fit alongside a wheelchair.

Today I received a more detailed explanation on this from Lothian Buses:

All of our vehicles comply fully with the Public Services Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR), which in terms of the provision of a dedicated wheelchair space require that the length for the space should be a minimum of 1300mm.

The 100 seat buses have a dedicated wheelchair space which is 397mm larger than the legally required minimum and is designed so that both wheelchairs and buggy users can co-exist in a shared space.

This implies that when the wheelchair space is occupied, there will be 397mm available for a buggy.  This got me wondering just how wide a buggy is… so I went Mothercare.

I found they had a HUGE range of buggies and prams to choose from. However, of the 40 buggies I measured none were narrower than 397mm. They were not even anywhere near that.

The smallest I found was the Mothercare Jive Stroller with “hearts” design. A really helpful staff member confirmed that at just £34  is was one of their most popular models. However, even it is 450mm wide – far too big for the space allocated by Lothian Buses.

It is important to note that on their website, Lothian Buses say:

To make the travel experience even better for you if you’re travelling with young children, many of our newest buses have an additional space for a buggy as well as the wheelchair space. 

I like this as it makes it clear that Lothian Buses recognise the value of ensuring families have access to public transport. However, it’s not clear why Lothian Buses decided that this policy should not apply to the Enviro400XLB or why customers were not consulted.