Protestors vent anger over Virgin’s controversial Old Town hotel

Campaigners want the council to rethink plans for the hotel development.
Campaigners want the council to rethink plans for the hotel development.
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Demonstrators gathered outside City Chambers calling on the City of Edinburgh Council to think again in granting permission for Richard Branson to build his first UK Virgin Hotel in the Capital.

The campaigners from the Let Their Be Light group and the Old Town Community Council unveiled a banner ahead of yesterday’s full council meeting, pleading for ‘not another heartbreak hotel’.

The protesters want the Central Library, located next to the proposed location of the hotel, to be protected from loss of natural light. The groups say that some parts of the library could lose up to 82 per cent of natural light once the hotel is constructed.

Simon Byrom from Old Town Community Council, said: “This is to raise awareness of the Virgin Hotel. We have listed 12 reasons why this planning permission needs to be reconsidered – primarily on its impact on light to the Central Library.

“It’s a Carnegie library, the finest in Scotland and the plans disregard his legacy. We believe the council must reconsider this.”

He added: “We see Richard Branson as a man of conscience and we would have like to have had a conversation with him about these plans and raise our concerns – but there’s been a real lack of communication or dialogue.”

The 225-bedroom project will include redevelopment of the India Buildings in Victoria Street as well as a new-build development on a gap site in the Cowgate, slotting in next to the library.

The plans for the hotel received planning permission in 2015 and the approval was challenged in the courts – which failed to reverse the decision. Mr Bryon said the campaigners want Mr Branson to think again after the council’s own daylight impact assessment revealed the loss of light to four out of five of the libraries floors exceeded guidelines.

He added: “It’s wholly inappropriate to be blocking so much light. It’s been left as a gap site since the 1950s in case the library was to be extended - but obviously that won’t be able to happen once the hotel is there.

“The council had looked at redeveloping the library – but stopped any plans following the global banking crisis in 2008. Without any consultation with the public, the council decided the Cowgate gap sites was not important.”

The campaigners are hoping for a Section 65 order to be put in place, which they say can revoke planning consent under “exceptional and expedient circumstances”. But the council say there are “no grounds” for an order under the law.

The council said that the guidance protects residentialbuildings from loss of natural light and doesn’t cover libraries.

A council spokesperson said: “There are no known grounds to revoke planning permission for this development, which was granted in 2015. This matter was pursued through the Scottish Courts recently, in respect of this development, in which the court found in the council’s favour.”

Branson visited the hotel site last week.

Virgin say the library was originally built with a tenement block overshadowing it, before the library was built, until they were demolished.

They say the new hotel will also deliver jobs and boost the local economy as well as breathing new life into the building.