Proceeds from proposals to redevelop the former Edinburgh headquarters of a Scottish charity have been earmarked to expand services for the visually impaired, including support for the city's Royal Blind School.

Sight Scotland and property developer S Harrison Developments have jointly submitted a planning application to redevelop the site of the charity’s former home in Gillespie Crescent into student accommodation. A total of 145 bedrooms are proposed, with additional amenities including a cinema/multimedia room and a gym.

Sight Scotland occupied the building for nearly a century and continue to repair and maintain it, despite vacating the building early in 2021 as it was no longer fit for purpose. Staff were relocated to modern, open-plan offices in Gorgie, allowing them to work alongside the Scottish Braille Press Service.

The Herald: A CGI of the proposed redevelopmentA CGI of the proposed redevelopment (Image: S Harrison)

Proposals include demolition of the existing vacant building and erection of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) and associated amenity space, landscaping and infrastructure. A shared public green space in front of the building will offer the opportunity for people to walk, sit and rest, with the existing trees to be retained.

The funds released by the sale of the site will allow Sight Scotland to further expand its support to even more people living with sight loss.

“The funds released by the sale of the site, if consented, will enable us to further expand our reach, and support even more people living with visual impairments within existing services such as the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh," said Davina Shiell, director of marketing and engagement for Sight Scotland.

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“It will also allow us to provide new future services for the city, as well as expanding our ability to fund medical research to tackle the root causes of sight loss.”

Developers say the project will also address a well-recognised shortfall in student accommodation in the city, with a student homelessness crisis recognised by the council in June 2023.

Student numbers in the city increased by more than 25% between 2017 and 2022, from 53,845 to 67,355. Included in this, the University of Edinburgh saw numbers increase by 27% and Napier University by 29%.

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This has placed significant pressure on traditional family housing stock, with students occupying homes that would in many cases have previously been occupied by families. A spokesperson for S Harrison said the Sight Scotland project has the potential to free up such housing.

“This proposed development on a brownfield site, if approved, will respond to this increasing demand, housing students in a central location with easy access by active travel and public transport to universities and delivering significant investment into the local community,” the spokesperson said.