Edinburgh 'boatel' plans rejected over water access fears for Boroughmuir High pupils

Barges moored on the Union canal.
Barges moored on the Union canal.
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Plans to moor five floating hotels on the Union Canal have been sunk by councillors over fears high school pupils would not be able to access the water.

The city council’s development management sub-committee refused permission by the Edinburgh Boatel company to park the vessels outside Boroughmuir High School – with one councillor claiming the floating hotels could prevent parents from dropping children off at school by boat.

Each boatel, designed as Scandinavian narrow boats, can accommodate four people. Planning officers had recommended that the plans are approved but councillors overturned the decision.

Planning convener, Cllr Neil Gardiner, said: “We went on a site visit and I didn’t appreciate that the front door of Boroughmuir High School is onto the canal – I assumed it was onto Fountainbridge. I can see how vital this space is to the school.

“Active schools is a big consideration and this is an opportunity for the school to use that space.”

Each of the five boats would contain a double room and a bunk room – along with a separate bathroom and an open plan saloon or dining area. Boatel guests would be expected to be families or “commercial executives looking for an unusual leisure experience”.

Cllr Alex Staniforth said: “Public access from the school by all those schoolchildren is going to be impeded by this.

“Access to the water’s edge does not just mean being able to walk up to the water’s edge. In this case, their access to it allows them to take canal water for science experiments, to put canoes on the water and to sail them up and down. Their access is going to be limited.

“People in canal boats may choose to drop their kids off to school from the water’s edge – it could happen and this could impede that.”

But Cllr Max Mitchell argued that the justification for refusing the application “didn’t stack up”.

He added: “I understand where everyone is coming from and I’m very sympathetic to their feelings on it, but I would urge caution myself with what is being presented.”

But the committee moved to reject the proposals.

Cllr Joanna Mowat said: “It’s the front door to the school but it’s also part of their amenity space. The city should be proud of what it has done with that school and what it has done with that canal.

“It has taken something that was an industrial heartland and it has regenerated it and revitalised it and it has created this amazing environment It’s really special actually. I think this would diminish from that.”

Green ward Cllr Gavin Corbett, who is also a city canal champion, welcomed the decision.

He said: “I’m pleased the committee agreed unanimously to refuse this application. There is definitely scope for ‘boatels’ on the canal as part of a mix of uses. But right here, effectively blocking off access to the canal for the new school, is exactly the wrong place.

“I really hope the applicant will decide not to appeal. That will allow the school to get on with exciting plans to launch kayaks there and to use the canalside as part of the school day, from geography to social history and science. That is something Scottish Canals should be encouraging and building in to future moorings plans.”