Old Edinburgh captured in ‘modernist’ planning video

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A SHORT FILM reveals the post-war redevelopment plans for Edinburgh’s Leith Street and St James districts could have been drastically different.

Named The Collingwood Plan, the radical scheme was drawn up in the 1950s by Southampton-based architectural firm W.H. Saunders and Son who envisaged a modern, large-scale redevelopment of the Leith Street and St James district where now stands the semi-demolished St James Centre.

The Collingwood Plan envisaged the wholesale destruction of the city centre's east end.

The Collingwood Plan envisaged the wholesale destruction of the city centre's east end.

To eradicate congestion, the developers proposed the wholesale demolition of the entire St James Quarter and the construction of major new roads and roundabouts to create a motorist’s utopia in central Edinburgh.

Arguing that the Leith Street district with its “clutter of ancient shops and dwellings and offices” is too cramped and narrow to deal with the large amounts of traffic which now flow through from the city’s main arteries, the narrator stresses the need for Edinburgh to modernise.

He goes on to suggest that Calton Road and the arch of Regent Bridge could be retained to provide an entrance to a huge multi-storey underground car park and service area with shopping precincts, offices and residential areas located above.

St James Square and its Georgian tenements are then condemned by the narrator as “old and ugly”, before the film reveals their possible replacement: a precinct of several, large high-rise blocks with shopping areas at ground level, echoing Glasgow’s Anderston Centre.

The narrow canyon of Leith Street is deemed as inefficient to cope with post-war levels of traffic.

The narrow canyon of Leith Street is deemed as inefficient to cope with post-war levels of traffic.

Ending on Princes Street, the film leaves us with the hopeful declaration that congestion can “be overcome”.

The Collingwood Plan was just one of a great number of proposals which were put forward to modernise Edinburgh city centre in the post-war era.

Although this particular plan was scrapped, a scaled-down version was partially-implemented from 1965 onwards.

Much of Leith Street, Greenside and the entirety of St James Square were demolished to make way for the St James Centre, New St Andrews House and a multi-storey car park - none of which will be with us for much longer.

St James Square is described in the film as an "old and ugly square".

St James Square is described in the film as an "old and ugly square".

The Collingwood Plan has echoes of the Anderston Centre in Glasgow.

The Collingwood Plan has echoes of the Anderston Centre in Glasgow.