Leading heritage body to fight Old Town gap plans

An artist's impression of the site

An artist's impression of the site

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A LEADING heritage group has lodged a formal objection to the re-development of a huge Old Town gap site over claims it could jeopardise the World Heritage Site.

The Cockburn Association has warned current proposals for the South Bridge/Cowgate development are “wholly inappropriate for the setting” and could damage its UNESCO status.

Developers Janson Property and the Whiteburn Project have lodged plans for a 259-bedroom Ibis Hotel beside shops, restaurants and cafes on South Bridge and the Cowgate.

It is intended that the SoCo site, which has been empty since the 2002 Old Town fire, would become a new community hub with an outdoor courtyard and al-fresco dining.

The Cockburn Association had backed the SoCo project along with other heritage groups and established architects before withdrawing its support in recent months.

It claims the designs that emerged from the consultation period had been “substantially” altered and were no longer in fitting with the area.

Meanwhile, rival plans have been drawn up by the conservation architect James Simpson in an attempt to persuade councillors that more ambitious goals are achievable.

Developers have denied the claims and say they have “95 per cent agreement” on the project.

The Cockburn Association said the development of a modern block in the heart of the Old Town would count against the Capital during UNESCO inspections.

Director Marion Williams said: “We’re more and more open to change with regards to new developments, but we don’t feel this is appropriate.

“It’s things like this that will endanger the World Heritage Site, and this is the gateway into the New Town.

“We won the Haymarket case [against plans for a 17-storey hotel] because it would have a detrimental effect, and that wasn’t even inside the Heritage Site.”

Sources close to the project highlighted the infighting between heritage groups and dismissed the claims as a row over “minor disagreement over cornicing on the south elevation”.

However, one leading architect told the Evening News that the plans were widely regarded to be “architecturally poor”.

They said the site was a critical part of Robert Adam’s masterplan for the southern approach to Edinburgh, with a grand vista stretching from Old College to Register House.

Author Alexander McCall Smith had dubbed earlier plans “yet another dose of the sort of international modernism which should have no place in Edinburgh’s fragile Old Town”.

The row will see the rival designs and the formal objection lodged to the city council planning committee ahead of an upcoming vote.

A spokesman for Jansons Property said: “We have undertaken extensive public consultation, which included all the relevant heritage groups.

“We have managed to get agreement on 95 per cent of what’s proposed. In Edinburgh it’s always a challenge to get 100 per cent agreement on anything that’s proposed, but we really do feel that we’ve done everything possible to take as many people with us as we can.”