HISTORY will judge the planning committee of Edinburgh City Council who yesterday voted by 8-6 in favour of the Caltongate development. Did they help breathe new life into an ugly but important gap site which has suffered from a decade of wrangling? Or did they fail to demand the very best design for a key part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site?
It was clear from events at the City Chambers that those who opposed the £150 million scheme by South African firm Artisan Real Estate Investors were far more vociferous. The speeches were passionate and informed. And in many cases even those councillors who voted in favour of the development could not disagree with the points that were being made.
But the city council does not have the luxury of always demanding the very best, of seeking perfection from every application. It has to balance a myriad of competing interests with the overall aim of doing what is best for Scotland’s Capital.
The Caltongate site has stalled for more than ten years and this scheme will breathe new life into the former New Street bus station site, providing three hotels, offices and almost 200 new homes. It will also support hundreds of new jobs, providing a significant boost to the city’s economy. Local businesses around the site will also benefit.
For a council to reject such plans is always difficult. This could have delayed Caltongate – a project which has had a lengthy consultation process and close scrutiny by both the council and Scottish Government – for several more years.
So the judgement to pass the development was clearly a narrow one, and one in which every elected member will have had reservations. But the scheme is another timely boost for the Capital’s economy as it pulls out of the deepest recession since the 1920s. The recovery remains fragile and compromises are sometimes necessary on the road to a brighter future.