the warning about the risks facing Edinburgh’s historic buildings – and therefore, unavoidably, to all of us who walk beneath them – could hardly be more stark.
The gradual decay of tenement buildings in certain parts of the Old Town is a “phantom menace” that has quietly crept up on the city. The potential cost of doing nothing hardly bears thinking about. The biggest risk of course is that to the life and limb of anyone walking through the historic city centre. But there is also a serious risk to our built heritage which is literally crumbling before our eyes.
The tenements of the Old Town are just as much part of the fabric of the city as famous buildings like the Castle and the Scott Monument. They are a crucial part of what gives Edinburgh city centre its unique character. If these buildings are not looked after, the city will be the poorer for it.
Yet all this should come as no surprise to anyone who ever looks up as they walk through parts of the Old Town. Large plants growing out of buildings, with roots worming their way into the masonry. are a common sight.
There are many reasons for the current worrying situation. These include, as Edinburgh World Heritage rightly points out, problems associated with buildings in multiple ownership, the number of properties that are rented without landlords paying enough attention and the weathering effects of global warming.
These problems of course are exacerbated by the scrapping of the city’s property conservation service in the wake of the statutory repairs scandal. Where the city once exercised powers to intervene when owners did not do what they should, it now – for understandable reasons – chooses to take a step back. That leaves the responsibility in the owners hands. We may find that appeals to them like this become more regular in years to come.