Concert hall plans look like financial suicide in current climate - Kevin Buckle

The old Royal High School building on Edinburgh's Calton HillThe old Royal High School building on Edinburgh's Calton Hill
The old Royal High School building on Edinburgh's Calton Hill
Bad news for the Dunard Centre, the new concert hall to be built behind the Royal Bank of Scotland building in St Andrew Square, as the cost is reported to have increased by more than 50 per cent.

Initially priced at £75 million the cost has increased by £40m with more public money being needed for a concert hall many think is not needed.

Few would disagree that a privately funded building, as the project was initially promoted, would not be a useful addition to Edinburgh’s venues though there were some that said that it would harm The Queen’s Hall and Usher Hall.

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Now of course things are much different. The £75m which itself was close to double the initial costing of £45m was to be funded with a £35m donation from the Dunard Fund with another £25m to come from the ESES City Region Deal and the final £15m to be achieved by fundraising.

Edinburgh Council’s share of the City Region Deal was £5m and they are now being asked for another £2m they have disclosed which will do little to reduce the overall funding gap which is not dissimilar to the council’s own financial funding shortfall. Few believe this will be the last of the cost hikes and while it seems unlikely that any of the parties involved would want to give up on the project I’m not sure the public will see this as such an essential building that their money is being thrown at.

Of course just a short distance from the Dunard Centre is the prospect of another Dunard funded concert hall based in the Old Royal High School. Most of the plans have been axed with the proposed music school no longer going ahead, replaced by a National Centre of Music, whatever that might be, and with the concert hall still happening. The Old Royal High School project started costing £45m and swiftly rose to £110m with the real risk it would rise substantially again once the work started.

What both these projects have in common is that they are not really needed and are costing eye-watering amounts of money at a time when councils are going bankrupt, libraries are being closed and the arts in general is seeing funding cut at every turn.

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I remember reading in the early days that the Dunard Fund would cover any extra building costs and operating losses during the first three years the new concert hall was open, but the fund has already increased its contribution once and this new extra figure needed is over double their current commitment.

It is looking like financial suicide to try to build two new concert halls so close together in the current financial climate and if one idea was to be scrapped completely then certainly the Old Royal High School plans would be favourite to go. Of course that would put the school building in jeopardy again and without any prospect of somebody else coming along to save it.

The only building work currently in favour is that of hotels as Princes Street can well testify to, and the council may well rue the day they turned their back on the very idea they themselves had initiated.