'Controversy' as Edinburgh's Castle Terrace Car Park awarded Category B listed status

For many it’s a concrete carbuncle, designed with only functionality in mind, but the nation’s leading heritage body says it’s on a par with some of Edinburgh's best-known architectural landmarks and that it merits protection for generations to come.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 8:55 pm

In a move that is sure to divide opinion, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has this week awarded the Capital’s Castle Terrace Car Park Category B listed status - meaning it is now considered as architecturally valuable as the Scots Baronial tenements of Cockburn Street and the iconic Balmoral Hotel.

Contrasting sharply with its Castle Rock backdrop, the 750-bay NCP facility became the first modern multi-storey car park built in Scotland when it opened in 1964.

Proposed at a time of rapidly-rising car ownership which saw the number of motorists in Edinburgh skyrocket to more than 40,000, heritage campaigners initially slammed the post-war parking lot as it meant flattening a 19th century pleasure garden and felling dozens of mature trees.

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Castle Terrace Car Park will continue to serve the city for quite some time yet thanks to its new classification. Picture: TSPL

In recent years, the car park, which has a lower entrance at King’s Stables Road, has been associated with anti-social behaviour - particularly late at night, a reputation which followed the building into the film world, with the multi-layered car park providing the ideal setting for a pulsating chase scene during Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting sequel, filmed just three years ago.

Now, more than half a century on from its official completion in 1966, conservation staff say the Brutalist building boasts an “unparalleled” design and deserves the second-highest designation possible.

Branding the listing of the car park – which has waned in popularity among drivers in recent years, mainly due to parking costs – “controversial”, Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat, who serves the City Centre ward, believes many locals will fail to understand the decision.

“Most people won’t think the car park’s particularly lovely; it’s functional,” said Cllr Mowat.

The car park's construction in the 1960s meant the levelling of a 19th century pleasure gardens. Picture: TSPL

“It does seem to me a relatively short period of time to be memorialising the private car, post-war phenomenon.”

Controversy erupted two years ago when HES announced that a pair of 1960s high rises in Leith, Cables Wynd House and Linksview House, had been awarded Category A status - the highest possible classification.

Cllr Mowat warned against flippant protection of post-war structures, pointing out many were not built to last.

She added: “I don’t want to be snobby about it, but my only concern about these building is you can’t just willy-nilly list things that aren’t built to last and can’t be repaired - that, I hope, is taken into consideration.”

The car park opened in 1964. Picture: TSPL

Blasting the car park as an "eyesore", Claire Miller, Green councillor for Edinburgh City Centre, described the decision by HES as "baffling" - particularly in an era when encouraging greener transport options should be the order of the day.

She said: "As a local ward councillor I’m unaware of any local interest in this building, other than how an eyesore which serves an outdated mode of transport could be re-purposed and brought into the 21st century.

"It baffles me that HES has made this decision when there are so many more architecturally and historically valuable buildings in Edinburgh that deserve protection and recognition."

Explaining some of the reasons behind the listing, Elizabeth McCrone, Head of Designations at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “It not only had a hugely innovative design, but it was also carefully conceived not to interfere with views of Edinburgh Castle.

“While there is a love-hate relationship with architecture built after the Second World War, these buildings have an important part to play in telling Scotland’s story.

“Listing allows us to celebrate and recognise the variety and quality of Scotland’s diverse heritage – from all periods of time and for all types of people.”