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TIME FOR EDINBURGH TO SAY YES

AGENDA

Should Edinburgh ever need a witty marketing slogan Richard Murphy has a suggestion: 'The city that likes to say no.'

His cynicism stems from years battling conservationists who claim radical architecture in the Scottish capital's New Town and Old Town will threaten its World Heritage status.

Murphy is only one of many whose visions for Edinburgh have had antidevelopment campaigners scrambling for their placards.

Foster and Partners' plans for the Quartermile; BDP's proposal to replace Waverley station with a retail complex and underground terminus; Allan Murray Architects' Caltongate project - all have been mauled by conservation heavyweights the Cockburn Association and Edinburgh World Heritage Trust (EWHT).

To what extent radical architecture threatens Edinburgh's World Heritage status is open to conjecture.

There's no precedent for stripping a city of the title.

So are conservationists simply crying 'wolf'?

Murphy is convinced there is an entrenched aversion to Modern architecture.

'Suggesting Edinburgh might lose its World Heritage status is a hollow threat, ' he says.

He also claims that designs in the city are 'being nibbled and nibbled into lowest-commondenominator architecture'.

This is illustrated by the tortuous nine-month journey Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop's Calton Road mixeduse development took through the city's planning department.

Although the project is finally on-site, Murray admits it is not the innovative scheme he originally envisioned.

Murray agrees the heritage lobby is too quick to stamp down new architecture. 'The meaning of a World Heritage Site and what would detract from it is not fully understood, ' he says. 'Remember, the New Town and Old Town would have been radical for their time.'

Naturally, both the Cockburn Association and EWHT claim to not oppose Edinburgh's regeneration. Yet just last week the Cockburn Association attacked Gillespies' multi-million rejuvenation of Grassmarket as 'bland and corporate' ( ajplus 26.05.06).

And in March the two groups issued a joint statement damning the Caltongate project as, yes, a threat to Edinburgh's World Heritage status ( ajplus 10.03.06).

But Historic Scotland - in a response that may have conservationists spitting out their cornakes - believes Caltongate is a prime example of 'informed change' that enhances cultural assets.

Historic Scotland chief inspector Malcolm Cooper adds: 'Bold new architecture is the heritage of the future. We need to be brave otherwise we create mediocre development.'

Edinburgh's status has increased pressure on architects to adopt a contextual approach to design. And rightly so.

But heritage should not be an immovable roadblock to progress. New architecture is the signature of an economically confident city - if Edinburgh can't commit to radical regeneration it risks alienating future inward investment.

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