Edinburgh concert hall should be set in stone, not concrete – John McLellan

An artist's impression of a planned �45m concert hall in Edinburgh's New Town
An artist's impression of a planned �45m concert hall in Edinburgh's New Town
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Cost concerns cannot override history in central Edinburgh when it comes to the debate over stone or concrete for the planned concert hall, writes John McLellan.

Concrete or stone? Now the growing row over the materials for Edinburgh’s new concert hall in the heart of the New Town has made the front of the Evening News, it is not something which can be swept under the carpet.

A heritage statement submitted to the council by the design team for the St Andrew Square Impact project clearly states the intention to use aggregated concrete for the main exterior finishes.

But the management plan for the World Heritage Sites, published with much fanfare earlier this year, is equally clear that the predominant materials should be stone. “From 1674 even the most ordinary buildings were constructed of stone,” it says. “What distinguishes Edinburgh from other European capitals is the consistent use of ashlar (dressed stone) in the ‘show’ parts of the facades: those parts of the building which are on public view.”

Aggregated concrete appears to be at odds with those principles and debates about new statement buildings have centred on what kind of stone, not alternatives. Although entirely finished with high-quality concrete inside, the Scottish Parliament exterior is granite, despite criticism it was fine for Aberdeen but not central Edinburgh.

Planning officers recommended refusal for the St James Centre to use limestone because it wouldn’t weather like Craigleith sandstone, the predominant New Town material. The developers successfully argued no single sandstone quarry could supply the vast quantities needed and the only way to avoid a patchwork was importing limestone from Germany.

St James Centre development chief Martin Perry this week wrote to all Edinburgh councillors saying that, having just removed one concrete monolith, why allow another in a more sensitive site, and that weathering would be an issue.

What will be an issue is cost, as stone would inevitably increase the £45m price tag. But just as small householders are regularly prevented from fitting UPVC windows in conservation areas, the budget cannot be a consideration.

READ MORE: St James developers slate concrete plans for concert hall

Westminster consensus shifts towards second Brexit referendum
In London this week for a series of meetings, the normally self-assured, plugged-in, savvy media and political types are instead holding up their hands in confused in despair at the Brexit chaos. “Parliament has gone absolutely bonkers,” said one very close to the heart of government.

These people like to convey the impression they know what’s what; no-one wants to look like they’re not in the loop, fingers not on the pulse and all that. But the reality now is that no-one knows if there is a loop to be in. In the thick of it certainly, but in the thick of what?

Consensus is moving towards a second referendum, especially with the European Court of Justice expected to uphold the view of its Advocate General that Britain’s EU membership will continue if the decision to leave is reversed, but the route is far from clear. And even if she wouldn’t agree, few expect Mrs May to be hanging the baubles on Number 10’s big Christmas tree in 2019.

But if there is a second vote and it does reverse the decision, what will proving Scotland’s voice in the UK matters, successfully arguing for remaining in a strong union, supporting a way to back out of a chaotic divorce, and returning the focus on domestic politics do for the SNP? Be very, very careful what you wish for.

READ MORE: Brexit: Why MPs of all parties must back Theresa May – Brian Wilson

Tragicomic timing
Amidst the political social media mud-slinging, one rejoinder stood out this week. Ex-Sinn Fein leader and IRA man Gerry Adams tweeted innocently how his house was like Santa’s Grotto. “Takes half an hour 2 switch off fairy lights and assorted Yule illuminations,” he said.

To which Labour-supporting comedian Eddie Izzard replied, “Surely you know someone who could fit a timer.”

I didn’t understand grief for a pet until now
Life, as they say, goes on but of course sometimes it doesn’t. Apart from psychopaths, like some of Mr Adams’ former associates, we all understand human tragedy. But I’ve never fully appreciated how some people are so attached to a dog or a cat that when they go it’s like the death of a close relative.

I mean, when a dog reaches 15 it’s on borrowed time anyway, isn’t it? We had a family dog which died at that age when I was in my 20s and, well, I thought, it was just one of those things.

Maybe it’s an age thing, but this week I learnt. Our West Highland terrier Maggie (no, not named after the late Prime Minster, but my then eight-year-old daughter’s choice) enjoyed her usual walk up Craiglockhart Hill on Saturday and again on Sunday, but by Sunday night was looking wobbly on her feet and was grizzling.

By Monday morning, she couldn’t walk very well at all and wasn’t eating. At the vet by lunchtime, we were told she hadn’t had a stroke, our biggest fear, but was running a temperature and there might be a problem with her liver, but they’d X-ray her to check and keep her in for observation.

But by 4pm the vet rang to say she was deteriorating fast and just after 4.30pm she was put to sleep.

I had a meeting at 4.30pm and couldn’t speak without welling up so I had to make my apologies. Pathetic, eh? Maybe not so much. Maggie was part of the kids’ growing-up and my reaction took me totally by surprise. I was bereft.

Rationally speaking it was pointless, but we felt we had to see her so we drove to the vet where she was still warm and we were able to stroke her and tell he what a good little dog she’d been and close her eyes for the last time and say goodbye.

We’ll get her ashes in a couple of weeks and scatter them in Craiglockhart Woods where she used to chase the squirrels. You never got one, did you Maggie, you daft old thing?