Martin Hannan: Let’s not make a historic mistake

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What could Edinburgh’s Old and New Town soon have in common with the Everglades in Florida, the city of Timbuktu and the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem?

This capital city of ours could soon be joining the above three destinations on the Unesco “list of shame” of 48 places which are in danger of losing their World Heritage Site designation. After 20 years of holding it, we may even see the Old and New Town lose their title altogether.

There are those who think that you cannot lose World Heritage status once it has been granted to you by the all-powerful committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Well, just ask the citizens of the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany or the inhabitants of the Arabian Oryx sanctuary in Oman. These are the two places already stripped of their World Heritage titles, the former when the futuristic out-of-character Waldschlösschen Bridge was built across the Elbe Valley, and the latter because Oman reduced the sanctuary’s area by 90 per cent and poaching became rife.

The accolade is much sought-after, because it adds prestige and offers protection to locations. Becoming a World Heritage Site is not easy – just ask those who laboured for years to have the Forth Bridge put on the list. It’s just as well they were successful, because Edinburgh could be about to lose its more famous World Heritage title, jointly awarded to the Old and New Towns.

Believe me, we are very close to seeing them go on the “in danger” list of shame.

The demolition of listed buildings in St Andrew Square and the sheer dreadfulness of the New Waverley development is now known to have put Edinburgh in the sights of the Incomos group, which advises Unesco on World Heritage Sites.

I think we can just about get away with the approved plans for the St James Quarter, even with the beige plook or walnut whip hotel – after all, we’re just replacing one carbuncle with another.

The hotel plans for the former Royal High School are a different matter, however. This is one of the key buildings in Edinburgh’s cityscape, and while developers Duddingston House Properties have amended their designs markedly, they are very damaging to this crucial area.

When your own national body charged with preserving the heritage of the country takes a very dim view of the proposals, when the Cockburn Association and so many campaigners are warning that the Royal High plans are going too far, we must pay heed.

It’s not a “neurotic reaction” to oppose change as Professor Richard Williams of Edinburgh University said – a pathetic remark by an obviously blinkered academic. It’s about preserving the beauty that makes this city what it is, and I am proud of the fact that Edinburgh has so many people dedicated to maintaining the city’s looks as best they can.

My main objection has always been that this is a Grade A listed building which should only be occupied for a civic use – that’s why I welcome the plan for a music school in the building. That is the option that must 
proceed.

The Old and New Towns gained their World Heritage Site designation in December, 1995. It would be beyond embarrassment if the capital of Scotland was to lose its accolade on the 20th anniversary of receiving it.

A plan to stop waste of money

ONE of the things that gets my goat about the planning system is the fact that a developer can be “encouraged” by a council and then lose out when it comes to councillors’ votes.

With at least a nod and a wink from Edinburgh council, Duddingston House Properties has spent large sums on bringing its former Royal High School application forward. I don’t like the plan, but I object to that waste of their money.

So if the plan is rejected, they should be given another site on which to build their hotel – at the value of the land when they started, if necessary.

Amazed anyone is surprised by diesel scandal

What amazes me about the Volkswagen diesel scandal is that anyone is amazed about the industry cheating.

It was thanks to one brave man here in Edinburgh that the whole farce of the regulatory system – for that is what is really at fault here – was exposed nearly 30 years ago.

As director of environmental health for Edinburgh District Council, the late and much-missed Dick Carson, pictured below, insisted that devices for measuring traffic fumes should be at head height rather than 12 or 15 feet off the ground.

His move was much opposed by the manufacturers, and we soon found out why – the dangerous emissions were much worse at lung level.

Now it’s time for the polluters to really start paying – with jail time, too.

Keystone comrades

This SNP member is hugely enjoying watching the Labour Party tying itself in knots, due largely to its new leader’s incompetence. But I’ll reserve judgement until

after their conference.

Tsk, tsk, BBC get your Scottish history right. The new film Macbeth is not set in “tenth century Scotland” as the corporation’s reporter had it yesterday, but a century later – Macbeth reigned from 1040 to 1057.

It is a common mistake to confuse the centuries’ ordinal numbers, but not one that the BBC should be making.