COUNCILLORS were not given crucial information about the potential effect of the controversial Caltongate development on the World Heritage status of the Old Town before they approved the project, it was claimed today.
The body in charge of the Old and New Town World Heritage Site is understood to have told council officials it feared the £150 million scheme to transform a large site in the city centre could threaten the prized status.
But Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw said that information was not made available to him and his fellow members of the planning committee, which voted by eight to six to give the project the go-ahead.
Inspectors from Unesco, which awards World Heritage status, made a four-day visit to Edinburgh in 2008 amid concerns about the Caltongate project. The council said the issues they raised have since been addressed.
But Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said she was aware that the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust had said it was nevertheless concerned the scheme to build offices, hotels, homes and shops in and around New Street threatened the area’s “outstanding universal value” (OUV) – the criteria for gaining World Heritage Site status.
German city Dresden was deleted from Unesco’s World Heritage list in 2009 because of a bridge which was judged to have undermined its OUV.
Ms Williams said: “Adam Wilkinson advised that while the key concerns of the Unesco mission report had been met, it would still have a negative impact on the OUV.
“If the councillors made a decision to approve the scheme, thinking there was no negative impact, when the director of the World Heritage Site has advised the council it will have a negative impact, they might have had a different opinion had they understood that was the case.”
Cllr Bagshaw said the concerns of the trust were not reflected in the report or in the answer from officials when he asked about the issue at the meeting.
He said: “I was not aware of the views of the World Heritage people and when I tried to raise the question I was told there was not a problem because all the problems raised in the 2008 visit had been addressed.
“The committee should have known the World Heritage Trust still had reservations. That could well have had an effect on those who were swithering.”
Planning convener Ian Perry said he was not aware of the trust’s advice and added all correspondence on applications was circulated to councillors, saying: “If an objection has not been put to councillors then clearly something has gone wrong and I will investigate.”
CONTRACTORS have started work on a £200 million development in Haymarket – one of Edinburgh’s last major gap sites.
Engineering work has started on railway tunnels beneath the four-acre site, adjacent to Haymarket station, which will eventually contain 400,000sq ft of office accommodation and 60,000sq ft of commercial and leisure space, together with a 165-bedroom hotel and a 320-space underground car park.