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Controversial Murphy fails to tame Circus Lane lions

Local residents have blocked plans for a controversial Richard Murphy-designed mews house in Edinburgh. City councillors voted narrowly to reject the scheme against the recommendation of planning officers.

The private project for Circus Lane, in Edinburgh's New Town, inspired a flurry of protest letters from local people matched by vehement support from some of Edinburgh's most distinguished architects.

Objectors claim the modern Japanese-style house is out of keeping with the character of Circus Lane, which falls within a conservation area and is a World Heritage site.

The mews, originally designed as a service lane for Royal Circus in Reid and Sibbald's 1802 New Town plan, was only partially developed at the time. More buildings have been added since the 1970s, including two other Murphy-designed houses. The current scheme would replace a disused and overgrown garden that many residents are keen to retain and the demolition of a 200year-old boundary wall.

Historic Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the Scottish Civic Trust and the Central New Town Association of Edinburgh all wrote to recommend rejection.

Circus Lane resident Mike Hart, who has been fighting the scheme, said Murphy's design would adversely affect the area. 'The chap that designed the New Town designed it as it should be. If they want to have a 21st century building, they should do it in an area where it doesn't conflict with the existing buildings, ' he said. He also condemned Murphy's arrogant attitude: 'He's saying he's going to Murphyise the Old Town. He's not flavour of the month with us.'

But prominent Scottish architect Gordon Benson praised the scheme, believing it would bring 'a bit of colour' to the mews. And he added that the strength of objection to the project was strange compared with the lack of mobilisation against the 'awful' developments taking place on Princes Street.

Councillor Alan Tweedie, vice-convener of the planning committee, also strongly supported the scheme. He dismissed those opposing it as having a 'Disney' attitude - wanting to simply recreate the past. 'Murphy's house would enhance the street, ' he said. 'Old and new would have fit harmoniously together'. Tweedie also expressed concern at the close six to five vote, describing planning decisions as 'a bit of a lottery' determined by which members turned up on the day.

Other Murphy supporters - believed to include Robin Webster, head of Aberdeen University's school of architecture, and architects David Page, John Richards and Sir Anthony Wheeler - argued the house was another of Murphy's 'Edinburgh gems'. Edinburgh's planning officers also praised the 'highly innovative' design.

Despite the high public profile of the case, the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland declined to advise on the decision. Secretary to the commission Charles Prosser was dismissive about the row. The 'diminutive small fry' scheme was 'too small and insignificant' to be worth commenting on, he said.

Prosser added: 'There are huge issues going on all over Scotland, but for some reason the drawing rooms of Edinburgh are humming with talk of Circus Lane and whether the local people get to keep their garden.'

Murphy was unable to comment on the decision but is understood to be extremely disappointed.While clients, Brian and Leslie Knox have yet to lodge an appeal, Tweedie expected them to pursue the scheme.

The two-storey, three-bedroomed house, on the south curve of Circus Lane, has a stone front onto the mews with glass facade facing the garden at the back and slate pitch roof. More stone was added to the front facade after an original application was turned down in June last year.

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