Helen Martin: Unreal standards stall city progress

The design of SoCo in Cowgate was much debated.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
The design of SoCo in Cowgate was much debated. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AFTER almost quarter of a century living in Edinburgh my Weegieness has become rather diluted. 
 But enough remains for me to believe that there is a preciousness about this city which sometimes goes beyond preserving genuinely beautiful architecture and historic legacies.

I swear that for almost every square yard of the Capital, there is some historian or lobby group who wants to protect it from modern development and that in general, there is a feeling among enthusiasts such as the Cockburn Society that every building erected in the city must be a masterpiece.

In their defence, they have grounds for caution. Planners have allowed some dreadful carbuncles in the past, and let’s not even mention the environmental sieve and guano collector that is the Parliament.

The architects deserve sympathy too. Amidst all the concern over the Edinburgh skyline, the chance of creating a building that gets a “quite nice, don’t mind it” response as they might expect in Glasgow or Dundee, is miniscule. In Edinburgh it’s either got to be magnificent and a credit to the city, or condemned as complete tat.

Take Caltongate or the Cowgate after the fire. Wringing of hands over what to do with the former led to a state of paralysis for years. As for the Cowgate, a medieval slum in its heyday, who would have believed the conflagration that left a gap ripe for development would have been hailed as such a catastrophe and a civic loss?

Edinburgh does have some beautiful buildings. From the Palace and the Castle to the New Town, several examples of Gothic fancy, some magnificent churches and truly historic buildings, quads and interiors, it’s blessed.

The city’s prettiness and history is its problem and always will be. By comparison – and there’s no getting away from this – modern buildings are ugly. These glass, steel and timber edifices that would fit perfectly happily into a New York or even Glasgow landscape, will never match with the old stone works of art fashioned by artisan craftsmen and financed by generous philanthropists who weren’t chasing rents, appeasing shareholders or intent on profit. They were in search of beauty and status – money wasn’t an issue. They envisaged their buildings standing for ever.

So look on the bright side. We know many modern buildings have a life span of 50 years at most, sometimes as little as 30. They are essentially a complete waste of money in the long term. But in the short term we want construction jobs and rental income and that means building anything is better than acres of thin air.

Nothing will ever be good enough for Edinburgh. But console yourself with the fact that whatever is built now will collapse or be demolished in a matter of decades anyway, so who cares.

Calm down dear, they’re only 
modern buildings.

We skip over the issue of thieving

THIEVING is a complicated business these days. “Freegans” are folk who raid supermarket bins for food that’s going to waste anyway.

Three of them were caught “stealing” from an Iceland skip in London, held by police for 19 hours and were due to go to court until Iceland boss Malcolm Walker stepped in and challenged the prosecution because he thought it was ridiculous and didn’t want to press charges. Their cases were dropped.

One in five shoppers on the other hand, admits to regularly not paying for items when they use self-service tills, with a survey revealing the annual supermarket losses from this are around £1.6 billion a year. No-one gives a hoot.

A Yes vote will just cut out the middle man

BETTER Together and the Bank of England is warning Scots that if we keep the pound (in the event of a Yes vote), we will still be ruled by Westminster.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe is ordering the UK to double dole payments because the current amounts our citizens get are defying Human Rights and the Social Charter, despite the UK Government trying to cut back further, rather than increase spending on benefits. The UK is ruled – thus far – by Europe.

It seems the importance of the referendum on independence has been exaggerated when really, all we’re being asked to do is cut out the middle man.

Whisper it, but I’m turning into Nanny McPhee

AGE doesn’t come by itself. Ask any GP. I went to see mine the other day about a spot thingy on the side of my face and the good news was that it wasn’t a dangerous mole. It was a wart.

“A wart?” I said with disgust.

“It’s just an age thing, nothing to worry about, except that . . well I’m afraid the NHS doesn’t remove them now because it’s regarded as a cosmetic procedure.”

Now this wasn’t good news at all. Thank God it wasn’t on my chin or the end of my nose, but still, I was turning into Nanny McPhee.

Going private is the answer. I shall hear from the Murrayfield Ritz in a couple of weeks and discover the cost. Whatever, it is probably easier than moving in with a dysfunctional family for six months.