Gallery expansion plan hailed by city leaders

The National Galleries wish to take over this strip of land in the Gardens. Picture: SWNS

The National Galleries wish to take over this strip of land in the Gardens. Picture: SWNS

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Artists and city leaders have hailed ambitious plans to expand the National Galleries into Princes Street Gardens.

Directors are negotiating with the council to allow them to take over a strip of land in the east of the Gardens in order to push the iconic building’s wall out by five metres and boost gallery space.

The £15 million proposals – which will bring the gallery into line with the existing Playfair extension – would create 500sq m of additional exhibition space, set to house a “world-class” collection of rarely seen Scottish artwork.

Arts impresario Richard Demarco, whose work is represented in more than 2500 
collections around the world, gave his backing to the move.

He said: “I think that it is a splendid idea, and I am pleased, indeed, to learn that city council leaders and their equivalents in the National Gallery have evolved an amicable strategy.”

Under the plans, rooms currently used as offices will be transformed into gallery space – showcasing work by top Scottish artists such as Ian Hamilton Finlay and Peter Howson.

Richard Lewis, the city’s culture leader, said the council had been working closely with the National Galleries. He said: “It’s always the ambition to get more and more artworks out there and on display, and anything that allows that is obviously a good thing.”

Due to rules governing the use of land in Princes Street Gardens, the strip of “common good” land needed to carry out the extension will have to be transferred to the National Gallery rather than sold through a commercial transaction.

Land expert Andy Wightman explained the gallery would have to go through two legal processes – the Sheriff Court and Scottish Parliament – to gain use of the area.

He said: “The National Galleries did this back in 2003, and as part of the deal the council got some land in return. It would be interesting to see whether this is going to involve an exchange. The galleries are an appropriate public facility and tying them into beautiful gardens is fine.”

Marion Williams, director of heritage group the Cockburn Association, said any decision to hand the land over would be premature before funding or planning permission was secured. She said: “I personally welcome enhancing the facilities of the gallery but as with all these things it is the detail that matters.”