Why RBS should give Dundas House to Edinburgh's new Impact Concert Hall – Donald Anderson

The news that work is set to start on Edinburgh’s new Impact Concert Hall is a fantastic boost for culture in Edinburgh.

The A-listed Dundas House could be turned into the entrance to the new Impact Concert Hall
The A-listed Dundas House could be turned into the entrance to the new Impact Concert Hall

It’s been a tough time for the sector with the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse going into administration and the Scottish National Galleries facing a huge funding crisis. Against the backdrop of what’s been described as a ‘perfect storm’ of funding crises for our cultural industries, the news that the concert hall is on track is fantastic.

The International Festival and Fringe bounced back well this year. That’s a remarkable achievement given the challenges they’ve faced. The loss of the Film Festival and Filmhouse is a bitter blow when they were promoting a fantastic new facility in Festival Square to replace the frankly tired Filmhouse building, which has now been placed on the market. Hopefully something can be saved.

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On the new concert hall, things look astonishingly bright. It’s been a long and difficult search for a site. The location beside Dundas House is ideal, but challenging. However no other site in the city centre came close to being suitable. There were objections to the initial scheme from Nuveen on behalf of the St James Quarter, which were based on the fact that the initial proposals didn’t conform to the council’s masterplan for the area – and they didn’t. Fortunately, the proposals were suitably revised.

Equally important as reducing the height of the hall was that the proposals didn’t go as deep as initially intended. The rock beneath the site is volcanic and the initial plan to go down nearly 20 metres would have been ruinously expensive. The new proposals are therefore much more deliverable.

The truly amazing feature of the new concert hall is the funding being given by the Dunard Fund. Not since the days of the Usher Hall and creation of the Ross Theatre and Ross Fountain (by different Rosses) has Edinburgh seen such corporate generosity. Carol Grigor of the Dunard Fund deserves fulsome praise for her contributions to the International Festival, the Impact Concert Hall and a range of other projects over many years. No one in modern times has contributed more as a ‘matron’ (or patron) of Edinburgh and Scotland’s culture.

The Impact Concert Hall will, I am sure, be an outstanding venue and home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. If I have one niggle, it’s the fact that it Dundas House isn’t fully integrated to the proposals. The opportunity to create one of the finest entrances to a concert hall anywhere in the world is being missed as the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) plans to hang on to Dundas House.

I can’t help but feel that RBS should give Dundas House to the city in order that it be more fully integrated to the concert hall proposals. Let’s remember, the bank had a £46 billion bailout from the taxpayer. This would involve revisiting the plans obviously, but surely that is better done now than when the RBS loses its emotional attachment to Dundas House. A gift to the city would be a small recognition for the eyewatering support given to RBS when it very nearly crashed and burned.

So, it’s three cheers for the Impact Concert Hall. A fantastic new addition to a fantastic city. Well done to all involved.

Donald Anderson is director of Playfair Scotland and a former Edinburgh Council leader