After more than five hours of debate, the city council’s development management sub-committee approved the construction of the Impact Centre, which will be renamed the Dunard Centre once open to the public.
The 1,000-seat auditorium will also include a 200-seat studio for performances, rehearsals and recordings as well as rooms for education and conferences. The open foyer will host music performances and a cafe bar.
Located behind Dundas House at St Andrew Square, it will also become home to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and will be used as a venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.
Planning officer Emma Fitzgerald told councillors the plans would “preserve and enhance the conservation area”. She added that a reduction in daylight and sunlight in some surrounding buildings was “considered to be a minor infringement”.
Richard Price from the New Town and Broughton Community Council spoke in support of the plans, stating it would provide a “significant and positive contribution”.
He added: “We fully support the principle of the development of a world class performance venue in this part of the city.”
Adam Wilkinson from the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, told councillors that the plans show “a good understand of the World Heritage Site”.
Mr Wilkinson added that it will have “as a minimum, a neutral impact” on the World Heritage setting and if cultural gains are considered, “could be viewed as beneficial”.
Terry Levinthal from heritage watchdog, the Cockburn Association, admitted the plans will provide a “sizeable intervention” in views along George Street but neutralises the “somewhat more chaotic skyline that’s starting to emerge”. He added that the Impact Centre “does no harm to the New Town conservation area”.
The construction of the Impact Centre will overlap with the completion of the adjacent St James Centre. A row emerged between the St James investors and Impact Scotland over servicing for the building.
A team from the Nuveen Real Estates, speaking on behalf of investors for the St James Centre, objected to the plans over scale, materials and traffic issues. Mike Prentice said: “I’m disappointed and our investors are somewhat angry the city is supporting proposals that fail to meet planning policy.
“The concert hall is too big for the site. The concert hall could and should go elsewhere “
The developers told councillors about the benefits of the building to the city.
Sir Ewan Brown, chairman of Impact Scotland, said: “It’s designed to be an open all day venue for all kinds of music.
“It will create a thriving public space where everyone feels welcome and a “destination everyone can feel part of”.
Architect, Sir David Chipperfield, said wrapping the audience around the stage will create “an intimate shared experience with music at its heart”.
Councillors also heard from father and son, Antony and Andrew Jack, who live 7.9 metres from the proposed concert hall.
Antony Jack said: “I’m entirely satisfied that the development team have tried to meet the needs of neighbouring listed buildings. I can not get around the negativity that has erupted against this application.
“We should pull together to make this application work, not acting like a petulant child.”
Mr Jack’s son Andrew objected to the application, saying “access to light will be significantly reduced”.
Planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner, proposed approving the plans.
He said: “Initially I didn’t think the building could be sunk behind Dundas House. In putting this behind Dundas House, I think it works.
“This is an opportunity to link up the back lands. It’s not just a bulldozer of culture being pushed through.”
Cllr Osler proposed that councillors refuse the plans “with a heavy heart”.
She said: “My concern is that we found the site and shoehorned something into the site. The scale and proportion is inappropriate.
“I don’t believe the fact the reduction in light is justified. Reducing that impact further does seem quite cruel.”
Councillors voted six to four in favour of approving the plans.
Welcoming the decision, Sir Ewan said: “Today’s decision is tremendous news for the city and turns the ambition for a world-class centre for music and performance into a reality.
“I am particularly pleased to announce that the official name of the venue will be Dunard Centre supported by Royal Bank of Scotland. This is in recognition of the huge contribution Carol Grigor has made to this project through the charitable trust Dunard Fund.”
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