Protesters camp out in bid to hobble £65m Old Town hotel

Simon Byrom is staging a sit-in protest on the empty site on the Cowgate beside the homeless shelter. Picture: Greg Macvean
Simon Byrom is staging a sit-in protest on the empty site on the Cowgate beside the homeless shelter. Picture: Greg Macvean
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PROTESTERS have set up camp in an Old Town car park in a bid to stop work starting on a £65 million hotel.

The six activists, who have been living in tents for almost two weeks, have been hand-delivered a letter warning them they will face legal action if they don’t quit their makeshift campsite, but so far they are refusing to move on.

The 225-bedroomed hotel is set to transform the old India Buildings on Victoria Street and land and buildings down to the Cowgate into a four or five star venue, featuring a bar, cafe, and restaurant.

Jansons Property, who built the SoCo hotel and shops on the site of the Cowgate fire, have been given planning permission to convert the A-listed India Buildings as well as the B-listed Cowgate Church.

But the protesters, a mixture of local activists and homeless people, are vowing to obstruct the project, saying they want the property to stay in public hands.

Simon Byrom, 47, a member of the local community council who has lived in the Old Town for ten years, has been spending sleepless nights in a tent on the site.

He said: “The land in question has been left undeveloped for 40 years specifically for the purposes of an extension to the Central Library. I haven’t heard of anyone who is in favour of this hotel so far – it will block out all the natural light getting into the Central Library, it’s outrageous.

“We would much rather see the land being used as more 
facilities for the local people, not something else for tourists and students.”

The protesters have been served with a “notice to remove” from the council – which is the step before a notice of eviction is issued.

Mr Byrom added: “The main aim of our camp is to raise public awareness. This is such a noisy area and it’s been difficult to get any sleep at night, but this is something I feel very passionate about. Even if we are doing something illegal, it will prevent a greater crime in the future to our area.

“We need to get this information to the tourists as well as local residents as we feel like they have just as much influence on the council these days. Alternative proposals suggested by the local community, which could complement a library extension, envision a Garden of Enlightenment, funded through philanthropic endeavour.

“We feel this would invoke the memory of those inspiring figures such as Andrew Carnegie and Patrick Geddes, whose benevolence has left a lasting legacy to the city.”

Mr Byrom has now set up a petition in the hope the decision can be reversed.

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “The notice has been served for health and safety reasons and the campers are restricting use of the car park.”