Broughton residents have repelled, for now, an unauthorised effort to build across the Edinburgh World Heritage Site (EWHS).
Last week, Virgin Media began erecting 1.5-metre grey junction boxes on kerbs and against railings at sites across the New Town including Drummond Place, Cornwallis Place, Fettes Row, Royal Crescent, Dundonald and Scotland Streets. Outraged residents, some of whom had lost daylight into their basement flats, learned from workmen that a further 2,000 were planned across the capital.
City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust were caught unawares when various individuals, residents associations and other community groups raised the alarm. However, on 25 May, CEC confirmed that it had ordered Virgin Media to cease work immediately and seek planning consents.
John Knight – Planning Convener for the New Town and Broughton Community Council – told Spurtle of his concern at the incident: ‘Until the World Heritage Site is better advertised, marketed, and clearly demarcated, organisations will continue to march in and do whatever they want.’
He regards clear signage – perhaps similar to that in the Old Town – as a first step in raising awareness, and so controlling the pace and nature of change.
A Planning Department source confirmed that UK-wide companies run outwith Edinburgh are sometimes ignorant of the ‘onerous’ constraints affecting most of the historic city centre. However, the official described this as an occasional rather than worsening problem. Utilities companies are allowed to maintain existing infrastructure without prior permission, but all new works are subject to the standard planning procedures.
We approached Virgin Media for a comment, and received this insouciant reply: 'We are upgrading parts of our network across Edinburgh to provision it for the future arrival of our next generation services, such as ultrafast 100Mb broadband. Due to some concerns raised by local residents, we are working hand-in-hand with the World Heritage conservation team to identify engineering options as we progress with these upgrades that will help power Edinburgh's digital future. In addition to this, we're working closely with the local authorities across Edinburgh on placement for the remainder of the cabinets.'
The usefulness of the junction-boxes is probably indisputable. Opinions will differ about their design and positioning. What stinks is that a company as powerful, experienced and well-resourced as Virgin Media thought it could instal them without any kind of 'please' beforehand, 'thank you' afterwards or retrospective 'sorry'. All teeth and no manners.