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Permission granted for Kirkwall’s old library to become the new home of 14 houses and flats – going against officers’ recommendation

Kirkwall's old library
The owner of Kirkwall's old library says he's once again looking at commercial uses for the building. Andrew Stewart/DC Thomson

Orkney council’s planning committee have granted planning permission for 14 flats and houses to be created in Kirkwall’s old Carnegie library and the surrounding buildings.

This went against the officers’ recommendation to refuse due to the council’s roads department’s objection to the lack of parking spaces in the plans.

With 14 residential units being proposed, the roads department said there should be an equal number of parking spaces.

However, when it came time for a decision, the councillors on the committee, appeared to unanimously support the development, as no one moved the recommendation to refuse.

While there will obviously be major changes to the interior of the old library, the outside will mostly stay the same.

This would retain the character of the building, which the council’s planning manager Jamie Macvie called “known and arguably loved”.

He also said it was the most northerly Carnegie building in Europe and is an important building, culturally.

However, the building does need to be re-roofed and this is included in the plans.

The old library most recently housed Grooves Records and a gallery.

However, the business moved out last year and the old library has been empty since.

The plans will also see a music venue area, adjacent to Archive Coffee next door, walled off and turned into residential units.

Archive Coffee itself won’t see any changes, however.

The objection from roads services stated that that development would likely make the parking issues in Kirkwall’s town centre even worse.

As there were no spaces in the plans, this contrasted with national roads development guide.

However, Mr Macvie did note that there are many town centre premises that don’t have dedicated parking spaces.

On the objections, councillor Lindsay Hall felt it didn’t “take into account the nature of people” living in Kirkwall.

He said there is no actual expectation that parking should come with accommodation in the centre of town.

‘Weak argument’ underpinned roads department’s objection, says councillor

He called it “a weak argument” for refusing the plans.

Councillor Graham Bevan lead the calls to approve. He called the plan to provide more accommodation in Kirkwall’s centre “commendable.”

He said: “I would worry if there was 14 car parking spaces on this site, there wouldn’t be very many houses and we would have the problem of many cars coming out of a relatively blind exit point.”

“I really feel we should judge housing on its merits and, if it’s not over-dense, we should think very clearly about our opportunities to justify the no-parking provision.”

Mr Bevan said, with people being encouraged to cycle and be carbon-friendly, he would like to explore the merits of no parking at such developments.

Plans to provide accommodation in Kirkwall’s Old library commended by councillors

Committee chair Owen Tierney pointed out the lack of such accommodation in the town.

He said that people who wanted to stay in the proposed flats would accept that there is no parking.

The no-parking issue seemed “not as critical as suggested”, he said.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant Neil Stevenson was his agent Stephen Omand.

He explained that the closure of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, in one of the applicant’s other properties, led him to a “reappraisal of his long-term business plans”.

This led to Grooves moving out of Kirkwall’s old library. While discussions took place for another organisation to use the old library, none came to fruition.

Recognising a “strong and unsatisfied demand” for one-bedroom flats or houses in Kirkwall, he decided to develop the plans that went to the committee this week.

On the parking issue, Mr Omand said: “There is actually free parking available within walking distance of the development.

‘Surely it’s acceptable for someone to walk five minutes to get to a car park.’

Mr Omand cited previous consultations with the public about Kirkwall’s development.

He added: “Generally people felt that all new housing developments should be within 20 minutes walk of the town centre.

“Surely it’s acceptable for someone to walk five minutes to get to a car park.”

He urged the council to create its own parking policy, rather than looking to the national one.

Councillors then moved to a decision.

Mr Bevan said: ” We can’t continue to insist that every building within the town has the requisite parking provision.

“Respecting the roads department’s position, this is a situation where parking isn’t an option.

“We have to develop our town centre, and provide more accommodation for young people.”

He said the committee should set aside the guidelines on this occasion, which they ultimately did.

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