One of the Capital’s most controversial planning battles over the vision for an Old Town gap site is set to be decided next week – as it emerged officials were backing the £150 million Caltongate masterplan.
If green lit, a swathe of derelict land close to Waverley Station will be transformed into a vibrant hub of leisure, retail and office space boasting a large civic square at the heart of the five-acre development.
It would draw a firm line under more than a decade of planning wrangles that saw initial blueprints for the site – boasting a five-star hotel and conference centre – ignite a furious response from heritage watchdogs and local residents after being waved through in 2006.
Those contentious designs hit the buffers three years later when then owner Mountgrange Capital plunged into administration. Scaled-back plans were later submitted by South African-based developers Artisan who now stand on the cusp of creating a new 600,000sq ft Old Town landmark.
A city report into the masterplan said it was “a positive contribution to the area-wide aspirations” and a “quality of urban design [that] will enhance the conservation area”.
However, the fresh designs have also attracted objections from heritage groups who branded the buildings “lowest-common-denominator, conveyor-belt, square-footage production” for the Edinburgh World Heritage site while community watchdogs at the Old Town Community Council disbanded in protest after their complaints about the plans fell on deaf ears.
Bill Cowan, planning advisor for the Old Town Assocation, said he was “far from surprised” the plans have been slated for approval.
He said: “I guess we will just have another poor quality glass and concrete monstrosity in the Old Town, though less hideous than the previous design that was proposed. This is the World Heritage Site and you would hope for a better calibre of project here.”
A spokesperson for Artisan Real Estate Investors, the lead firm in an international consortium behind the project, said the crunch planning summit was coming after 18 months of “in-depth” consultation in which a “huge variety of views” had been taken into account.
He said: “We feel our planning application reflects this varied, dynamic and open consultation process and we feel we now have a proposal which balances ambitious and flexible commercial priorities with an understanding of the area’s community and civic context.
“We are now delivering on our promises made when we first started this process some 18 months ago, bringing international capital investment of £150 million to the table coupled with the vision and commitment needed to complete what has already been started.”
A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: “We are pleased that these include the retention of the listed former Canongate Infants School.”