St James ribbon hotel ‘would hurt Unesco status’

An artist's impression of the St James hotel. Picture: Redwood Consulting

An artist's impression of the St James hotel. Picture: Redwood Consulting

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A LEADING heritage group has written to the Scottish Government slamming the £850 million St James development set to transform the east end of the city centre.

The UK committee of the 
International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which advises Unesco, said the scheme would have “a highly negative impact” on Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.

The comments come after it was revealed a small team of experts from Icomos-UK will carry out an “informal fact-finding mission” in the Capital later this month to assess the impact of recent planning decisions.

Icomos’ specialists have the power to refer any criticisms to the body’s international committee, which could then prompt Unesco to launch its own investigation – and eventually strip Edinburgh of its prized World Heritage status.

In a letter to Communities Secretary Alex Neil, Icomos-UK chairman Peter Marsden said the controversial “ribbon hotel” at the centre of the St James revamp would have a “highly detrimental impact” on the city’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

He said: “It is our view that this building would not only have a severely detrimental impact on Edinburgh’s skyline, a key part of its OUV, but could set an extremely difficult precedent for further buildings that might cumulatively destroy the extraordinary coherence of 
Edinburgh that has been nurtured over the past 70 years by the effective application of planning controls in place.”

He insisted the approval of the scheme also raised questions about the “effectiveness of the governance structure for the World Heritage Site and to commitments for its protection and sustainable development”.

The “ribbon hotel” is seen as key to the wider success of the St James development but has attracted criticism for its striking design and for being too tall and bulky.

James Simpson, Icomos-UK’s vice-president for Scotland, said concerns also centred on plans recently unveiled for the old Royal High School on Calton Hill.

“That would also be regarded as extremely damaging – it’s a hugely important landmark.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said planning applications “are for the relevant local authority” – with ministers only intervening in cases of “genuine national significance”.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com