TWO leading heritage watchdogs have slammed revamped plans to redevelop Edinburgh’s Old Town.
The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland and the Cockburn Association have delivered damning verdicts on the £150 million Caltongate scheme which will see the creation of 175 new homes, several new hotels and almost 30 new shops – but involve “urban clearances” to make way for them.
Developers trying to revive a controversial development in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town have been accused of treating the historic environment with “contempt” and threatening its unique character with “foreign” features out of keeping with the area.
A large swathe of land next to Waverley Station faces being turned into “Nowheresville” and dominated by a “sad collection of concrete boxes”, according to the critics.
Edinburgh City Council, which is expected to decide on the scheme later this year, has been warned that the South African consortium behind the proposal will damage the whole nature of the Old Town if it gets the go-ahead.
Among the key areas of criticism are a continental-style public square, the creation of a “mega-pend” where historic tenements currently sit on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, and the addition of new glass pavilions in front of existing “arches” buildings on Market Street.
The 600,000 sq ft Caltongate site – which has been at the centre of more than a decade of planning wrangles – was bought out of administration two years ago. At the time, developers Artisan said the project offered “unparalleled opportunities for a high quality development that can do justice to its unique and spectacular setting.”
However, the criticism for its plans – being masterminded by Edinburgh architect Allan Murray – is almost as strong as that which met a previous blueprint for the site, which would have seen the creation of a five-star hotel and conference centre facing onto the Royal Mile.
Those plans, approved by the city council in the face of huge opposition, were criticised by inspectors at world heritage body Unesco during a major inquiry into the city’s world heritage status.
The new developers accepted key recommendations from the body to try to stave off a new wave of opposition.
The AHSS has accused a South African-led consortium of developers of trying to put “lowest-common-denominator, conveyor-belt, square-footage production” buildings on what is part of the Edinburgh World Heritage site.
The Cockburn Association has warned Edinburgh City Council that the plans will “impose New Town-like neo-classical spaces and buildings over the previous medieval pattern”.