Cowgate blaze site revamp to begin in weeks

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CONSTRUCTION of a major development on a notorious Old Town gap site which has lain empty for nearly a decade is set to begin within weeks.

An Ibis hotel, shops and a nightclub will be created as part of £35 million proposals for the derelict site in the Cowgate, which succumbed to a massive fire in December 2002.

The Old Town gap site is to be transformed after lying empty since 2002

The Old Town gap site is to be transformed after lying empty since 2002

Around 200 jobs are expected to be created under the SoCo plans – billed as the “largest city centre regeneration scheme in many years” – which will see the erection of a 259-bed hotel, two shops on South Bridge, two other commercial units and the revival of La Belle Angelle nightclub, which perished when the blaze broke out in rooms above it.

New public and civic spaces, as well as fresh routes between the Cowgate, Chambers Street and South Bridge will also be created.

Developer Jansons Property has commissioned an archeological survey that is nearing completion and it is understood initial works could begin within a fortnight.

The full development is expected to be finished by late summer 2013.

The development will feature a hotel, shops and civic spaces

The development will feature a hotel, shops and civic spaces

The decision to approve plans in December came after a long-running row over the architectural style of the building, particularly the gable end visible from South Bridge.

Heritage groups urged councillors to back plans for a “classical” gable, similar to the original, which the planning committee backed.

Andy Jansons, chief executive of Jansons Property, said: “It was important that the site had a full archaeological examination given the history of the site, and we were determined to ensure that this was given time to be properly carried out.

“This has not yielded any further information, so we can now turn our attention to really getting things moving.”

The new development will stretch up on to South Bridge

The new development will stretch up on to South Bridge

He added: “If the fire was described as a ‘gaping wound in the heart of the city’, I would like to think that we can say with confidence that we will be providing a massive boost to the Cowgate, South Bridge and the entire city centre that will repair the damage completely. We will also boost tourism and create 200 jobs.”

Councillor Tom Buchanan, convener of the economic development committee, welcomed the progress.

He said: “It is great news that this development is now a step closer to completion.

“This historic area will be transformed by the mixed-use site, which will also create hundreds of new jobs in the retail, hotel and leisure sectors.”

TIMELINE

December 7, 2002: 13 buildings are destroyed in the Cowgate fire, which rages over 52 hours.

August 2004: A £20 million scheme to build nightclubs, bars, restaurants, offices and shops is announced. Work never begins.

August 2006: A £40m hotel and leisure complex on the corner of Chambers Street and South Bridge announced. Work is delayed.

January 2009: Work on the £40m scheme is due to start after planning approval is given. Work never begins.

June 2011: Jansons Property takes on the site, aiming to create a 200-bed Ibis hotel plus shops, restaurants and bars.

September 2011: Images of how gap site will be transformed branded “underwhelming and dull” by heritage groups and architects.

November 2011: Cockburn Association lodges formal objection to redevelopment.

December 2011: Plans for hotel, shopping and leisure development get green light.

June 2012: Construction on £35 million project set to begin.