Network Rail's high-speed Waverley could cost Edinburgh's tourism dear
Can anybody honestly call to mind the wreathed cherubs who leap amid the wealth of scrolled ironwork that adorns the elaborate domed ceiling of Edinburgh Waverley Station? While the station's many 'features of architectural interest'might merit serious attention in a lessdistinguished locale, its somewhat compromised architectural glory fades into insignificance against the immediate context of Edinburgh's historic core. The Edinburgh Heritage Trust's insistence that the station should be preserved in its entirety is hard to sustain, not least because there is no clearly defined entirety to maintain - it is visible from every side, but memorable from none.
Since the late 1980s, when The Scotsman issued a call for suggestions to 'reclaim Edinburgh's Lost Valley', the prospect of a new Waverley Station has attracted the attention of some of our most imaginative architects.
With his customary tenacity John McAslan, then of Troughton McAslan - who came third after Price and Cullen in first place and Matthew Priestman in second - was on the verge of submitting an application for outline planning permission when the ticket office was mysteriously spot-listed, effectively scuppering the scheme. Fifteen years on, still reeling from the Scottish Parliament fiasco, it is easy to see why the city is tempted to back Network Rail's desire for a deliverable, predictable and speedy solution, rather than push for a high-profile competition with all the attendant controversy and risk.
But this is an instance where conventional commercial criteria simply don't apply. In a city so dependent on tourism, how do you start to assess the economic value of the fact that so many visitors find themselves in the part of town they want to visit, and in a context so legible that they instantly feel at home? Like Santa Lucia Station in Venice or the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, Edinburgh Waverley is one of the truly magnificent gateways;
welcoming visitors with a picture-postcard view, creating a sense of instant recognition and excitement, which regeneration and marketing budgets simply cannot buy.At present, the one thing which fails to take your breath away is the architecture of the station itself.