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Scotland the brave saves Miralles

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In one of the first significant debates of Scotland's newly-devolved parliament, First Minister Donald Dewar secured a slim, three-vote victory in favour of pressing ahead with Enrico Miralles' proposal for a new Scottish Parliament building opposite Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse. Despite the fact that the subject under discussion was perhaps the most important Scottish commission for a public building this century, the debate was essentially a party-line confrontation which had little bearing on the architectural issues involved. It was the escalating cost, rather than the Enric Miralles' evolving and expanding design, or the constraints of the site, which preoccupied the politicians.

Doubts about the Canongate location and the manner in which it was chosen - while the awkward symbolism of the existing debating chamber on the Carlton Hill was being ditched - are unlikely to go away, however. Environmentalists have voiced concern about the inevitable traffic impact on both the Old Town, a unesco-designated World Heritage Site, and Holyrood Park, an area of bird sanctuaries and sssis now threatened with a new role as pressure valve for the Old Town's anticipated traffic overload. In addition, academics have condemned the Crown-exempted gut-and-stuff functionalism proposed for the state rooms of seventeenth-century Queensberry House. Crown-exemption will also allow the parliamentarians to exceed Edinburgh's guideline provision on office parking spaces by some 300 per cent, while the Miralles complex is now more than 40 per cent bigger than the original competition entry.

Even supporters of the Miralles' building have misgivings about the effect of cost-capping on the end product. With the prospect of the government's own strictures on sustainability being kept to a bare minimum, and talk of penny-pinching on finishing materials and fitting out, both the Royal Fine Art Commission and the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland have warned that a parliament on the cheap is not a credible option. 'We are in favour of a high-quality new building at Holyrood, but feel that the decision should have been for a review.' Said Sebastian Tombs of the rias. 'We have to be realistic about both budget and timescale. A delay would have provided a useful breathing space. The last thing any of us need is a compromise on quality.'

The government has not altogether eliminated alternatives. James Simpson has published a proposal to upgrade the existing temporary development. Euroscope, a which carried out a full analysis of the potential of the Calton Hill area, believes it still has merits as a location

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