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Scottish stars slam controversial Caltongate scheme

A number of Scotland’s leading cultural voices have spoken out against Allan Murray Architect’s (AMA) controversial Caltongate scheme in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town

In a letter to The Scotsman, writers Irvine Welsh, Alexander McCall Smith, and Janice Galloway, sculptor Alexander Stoddart, artist John Byrne, and founding partner of Simpson and Brown Architects James Simpson have slammed the £150 million Caltongate scheme which sits on a derelict site just to the east of Waverley Station.

The letter stated: ‘200 years ago the legacy of our ancestors was the new town of Edinburgh. Unless something is done urgently today’s legacy will be Caltongate. How will our descendants 200 years hence judge us if it goes ahead?

‘Government bodies such as Historic Scotland have said nothing. Edinburgh World Heritage has been silenced by council pressure. It is now up to the people of Edinburgh and their supporters to take the lead.

‘The old and new towns of Edinburgh are a cityscape of international importance. Not only are they one of the jewels of Scotland and Europe but the tourism they generate produces millions of pounds and sustains thousands of jobs. It seems unthinkable that this legacy should be under threat.’

Allan Murray Architects’ scheme for the site, which received planning in January, features three new hotels, three office blocks and a civic square.

The highly controversial scheme has previously faced opposition with a 5,000-strong petition submitted before a planning decision was made.  

Developer Artisan said it had spent a year and a half listening to the community and claimed the plans showed ‘a genuine understanding of the area’s celebrated community and civic context’.

Previous story (AJ 30.1.14)

Murray’s controversial Caltongate scheme scrapes through planning

Edinburgh Council has narrowly approved Allan Murray Architect’s (AMA) highly controversial Caltongate scheme in the heart of the city’s historic Old Town area

The approval ends years of wrangling over the currently derelict five acre site just to the east of Waverley Station.

In 2005 AMA won a competition for developer Mountgrange Capital with a scheme featuring a 200-bed five-star hotel as well as offices, artists’ studios and nearly 300 homes on the site, most of which was once the New Street bus depot.

When Mountgrange went bust in 2009 South African developer Artisan Real Estate Investors stepped in. The AMA scheme that was voted through last night on an eight-to-six split is a watered down version of the original.

The passed scheme features three new hotels, three office blocks and a civic square. But with only 185 apartments, there is around 40 per cent less housing that the original offering of 300 new homes.

AMA has also cut back the massing and the overall height of the new development. In a statement Artisan also said that the larger commercial buildings had been ‘broken up into more intimate, individual units, improving the overall look and feel of the area’. 

Despite the changes, opposition to the scheme remains strong.

A 5,000-strong petition was submitted to the City Chambers before the council meeting and the The Edinburgh Evening News reported Edinburgh Greens councillor Nigel Bagshaw as describing the development as ‘alien’ to the character of the Old Town and not ‘…out of place on the surface of the moon’.

Euan Leitch of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland also expressed disappointment at the approval, telling the paper: ‘No-one seemed to say the plans were excellent and it’s disappointing to see planners pursue the lowest common denominator in terms of design and use for the site’

But Artisan managing director Lukas Nakos said the council’s decision marked ‘a significant milestone in the evolution of one of the most challenging city centre developments anywhere in the UK.

‘…much of the many facets of the area’s unique Old Town setting [will be] retained to preserve the character of the development, including the retention of the Canongate Venture building and the façade of the Old Sailor’s Ark,’ added Nakos.

Work is expected to start on site this summer.

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