Ross Bandstand tycoon hits back at watchdog

Marion Williams. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Marion Williams. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE tycoon behind multi-million-pound plans for a new concert venue in Princes Street Gardens has shrugged off a withering attack from the Capital’s conservation watchdog, which has branded the scheme “laughable”.

Norman Springford, founder of Apex Hotels and a former owner of the Edinburgh Playhouse, who is offering to plough several million pounds into a replacement for the crumbling Ross Theatre, said it was “too early” to attack the project.

His comments came after Marion Williams, director of The Cockburn Association, said she “laughed” when she saw his proposals and suggested they would not have an easy ride through parliament.

We revealed last week how Mr Springford had put forward plans for the revamp, which he admitted could cost as much as £30m.

And he said he would be happy to pay for an international competition to come up with designs for a building he hopes will become as iconic as the Sydney Opera House or Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum.

Responding to Ms Williams’ criticisms, he told the News: “I think we’re at the very early stages of the whole process and we accept that there are likely to be parties for it and parties against it.

“And it’s a case that everyone in the city decides what’s best for the city. I’m not saying that [Marion Williams] is right or wrong. It’s something that has to be decided.

“It’s very early stages in the whole process – we have to get the council on board first.”

Mr Springford’s vision – sent to council chief executive Sue Bruce – envisages a new arena with an overall capacity of 5000.

Ms Williams, who has indicated she might be willing to start a crowdfunding campaign to save the dilapidated Ross Fountain, was reported to have said: “I laughed when I [saw] the proposals.

“In general principle, any building in the gardens is prohibited by an act of parliament to do anything as it is Common Good Land.

“The National Galleries is looking to extend on a small piece of land and they’ve had to go through parliament. The idea of a building like the Sydney Opera House in Princes Street Gardens would have to go through parliament.

“It’s not a light undertaking – it has to be done very carefully and considerately.”

Mr Springford said it was not appropriate to attack or praise a scheme when there was nothing detailed on the table.

“What we’re looking at is whether it’s feasible, whether there’s funding available,” he said. “At this point we haven’t got any sense of design.

“In general and conceptual terms, is it going to be higher than the pavement level on Princes Street? No, because there’s a by-law that suggests it can’t be. The massing of the building is down to architects and designers – it’s not down to me.”