The Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland has called on Edinburgh City Council to throw out Reiach and Hall Architects' £45 million plans for one of the city's most sensitive sites. A letter sent by the commission to the city's planning chiefs - highlighting what it sees as significant problems with the Haymarket scheme - has prompted a furious response from the architects.
The move is believed to be a reaction by the commission to an imminent Scottish Executive report that is expected to demand it becomes more aggressive in the promotion of good architecture.
In its letter to Edinburgh City Council last Friday, the RFACS attacked the proportion of Reiach and Hall's six-storey mixed-use project, saying it would dominate strategic views of neighbouring Edinburgh Castle. It also criticised the building's glass frontage.
The commission, which could demand a public inquiry, also hit out at Reiach and Hall's decision to collaborate with local practices Page and Park Architects and Alan Murray Architects on the scheme.
The deputy director of the commission, Senga Bate, wrote in the letter: 'The enormous scale of the building, with its fully glazed south wall, would represent an over-powering presence to the inhabitants of the low-rise domestic environment below.' And it also attacked the decision by the developer, the EDI Group, to abandon plans by Norwegian practice Narud-Stokke Wiige, the winner of an international design competition for the site in 1995.
'The initial design promises little of architectural merit, ' the letter concludes, 'planning permission should be refused.'
Reiach and Hall Architects' managing director Tom Bostock told the AJ he was furious with the way the practice has been treated. 'We should be having a discussion with the commission. We have not even been sent a copy of the letter, something the commission is supposed to do. The commission's response shows an ignorance and misunderstanding of the scheme, ' he said. 'The criticism is unfair and unjustified. Much of the letter's complaints are none of the commission's business. Its job is to assess the standard of architecture on a proposed scheme, not to comment on the number of architects on the scheme, or which practice should have been appointed.'
RIAS president Gordon Davies said he believed this more aggressive outlook represents a change in the way the commission goes about its business.
'There are strong rumours the executive will demand that the commission is more proactive in promoting good design, ' Davies added.