Edinburgh’s Johnnie Walker whisky centre plans set for approval

Proposals to open a “world-class” whisky tourist destination in one of the Capital’s most prominent empty buildings have taken a leap forward after being recommended for approval by planners.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 7:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 11:15 am

The city council’s development management sub-committee will determine whether to grant permission for drinks giant Diageo’s plans for the former House of Fraser building at the West End of Princes Street next week. The council’s planning officers have given their backing to the proposals.

Diageo wants to transform the prime site as part of investment dedicated to their brand and the world’s best-selling whisky – but no specific budget has been revealed for the Edinburgh project.

The Diageo Johnnie Walker whisky experience could create up to 180 new full time jobs and will include an immersive visitor experience across three floors of the vacant building. If approved, the former Fraser’s building will be adapted to provide an events space for staging music, theatre and community events – along with a bar academy while retail space will be on offer on street level. The iconic cantilevered clock will remain as part of the plans.

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The Edinburgh attraction is intended to be the focal point of a £150million investment in Scotch whisky tourism by Diageo.

When plans were initially tabled, the company pledged to create the “best bar in the world” overlooking Edinburgh Castle. If approved, the visitor experience could be open by Christmas 2020.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, told planners that “the level of change proposed is not significant in terms of the World Heritage Site”.

Roof-top bars will be provided, offering views of the Capital. The council’s economic development officials say the plans will balance the footfall of Princes Street, with the St James Centre under development in the east end of the Capital.

In a report to councillors, officers said the proposals are “acceptable in principle” and will “sustain and enhance the city centre”.

The report adds: “The proposed development is a prestigious, high-quality, potentially world-wide, visitor/tourist attraction in the city centre which will help to sustain footfall levels in this area, especially given that the new St James development is expected to move the centre of gravity of the city’s retail to the east.

“In addition, the proposal includes an element of retail on the ground floor which also represents a cultural facility given Scotland’s renowned whisky industry.

“The proposals have no adverse effect on the character or appearance of the conservation area or character of the listed buildings and do not harm the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site. The development has no detrimental impact on significant architectural remains, residential amenity, road safety or infrastructure.”

The Diageo proposals received eight letters of support from residents and not a single objection.

Planning officials also praised the planned roof structure which will form a modern, bronze bar with “glazed frontages leading to an open stone-paved terrace facing Princes Street and Hope Street”.

The report added: “The proposed hipped roof structure over the bank building will match the copper finish of the historic external pitch to Hope Street and the new roof will sit behind the existing ridge to reduce the visual impact on the original roof.

“The proposed contemporary style dormer window in the remaining original section of copper roof on the Hope Street Lane elevation is an acceptable intervention to provide a viewing window for the new bar within this space without disrupting the principal elevation on Hope Street.”

Diageo declined to comment.

David Bol , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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