John McLellan: Winners turn losers in planning stakes

Flanagan Lawrence's design is almost invisible from the castle ramparts
Flanagan Lawrence's design is almost invisible from the castle ramparts
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It’s only about 12 years since the Princes Street Galleries plan for an underground shopping mall bit the dust, but the legacy of a six-year war to block the plans is the relatively restrained proposals for a new Ross Pavilion.

There are some zany ideas in the seven short-listed designs for the bandstand, in particular the two looking like skate parks inspired by those bad hats you see worn by footballers’ wives at Ladies Day races. Then there is what has already been described as the Hobbit-hole or Teletubby house, which is reminiscent of the shelved proposal from 2006. Another effort looks like a city centre branch of Dobbies Garden Centre at Lasswade.

Adjaye Associates' design is an understated modern take on the original Victorian bandstand

Adjaye Associates' design is an understated modern take on the original Victorian bandstand

An architectural competition in such a historic location was always going to attract global interest and for the Ross Development Trust’s jury to snub what might be called challenging concepts would not reflect well on Edinburgh’s artistic reputation, but they still have little chance of ever becoming reality, not with author Sandy McCall Smith and Edinburgh heritage watchdog Adam Wilkinson on the panel

The more conservative suggestions must surely be the front-runners and with a strong track record of working on theatrical projects like Sadler’s Wells and The Sage in Gateshead, London-based Flanagan Lawrence will fancy their chances, not least because their subtle landscaped scheme promises to be almost invisible from the Castle ramparts.

Another London-based outfit with a big international reputation, Adjaye Associates, has produced a stylishly understated modern take on the original Victorian bandstand which was replaced by the current structure in 1935, and is therefore on a comparatively small scale.

Then there is a modest proposal from Glasgow-based Page/Park, defeated veterans of the contest to design the doomed £100m Galleries scheme at the turn of the century. Back then Page/Park lost out to Edinburgh architect Alan Murray, but though Murray won the contest, his concept never left the drawing board because of determined opposition from the heritage lobby.

There was uproar at the plan by the council’s arms-length development company, EDI, to excavate beneath the roadway and open up a new frontage the length of Princes Street Gardens from The Mound to the West End. The idea was to link up with the new underground galleries connecting the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery, the only part of the Gardens masterplan to be completed.

In the end the council lost interest in the whole idea and focused instead on opportunities for redeveloping the roof of Waverley Station and the so-called ‘String of Pearls’ shopping block scheme between Princes Street and Rose Street, neither of which came to anything.

Knives are already being sharpened in case there is the merest hint the Ladies Day titfers might get the nod, and that will not have been lost on the likes of Page/Park. They will be all too aware of what has happened up the road at the Old Royal High School, where the principle of a hotel conversion won a city council competition, only for the resulting scheme to be thrown out by the development management committee last year. The revised plan is set for an all-day hearing at the end of August.

So even if your revolutionary design wins the contest, if the conservation lobby don’t get you, the planning committee lies in wait.

Underwhelmed by Teviot Row development

If Page/Park win the Ross Bandstand competition they might need an Edinburgh office now they are working on the £40m revamp of the Edinburgh University students union complex on Teviot Row.

The oldest purpose-built students union in the world, which has been home to the Gilded Balloon Fringe venue since the 2002 Cowgate fire, will be refurbished and a modern extension added next to the old George Watson’s Ladies College. A new public square will be created, but it looks like some mature trees will have to make way.

The design looks pretty much like what might be expected and the reaction so far ranges from lukewarm to liquid hydrogen; described by one as like a kilt jacket on a tutu, the university might now be having second thoughts about posting the images on its Facebook page. Nevertheless, the plans should be going to the city council within the next three months.

Justice must be seen to be done

Under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a fair trial if they face allegations. Justice must be seen to be done, which is why courts have public and Press benches, so that unlike South American dictatorships people do not simply disappear.

Of course, very often those on trial would like nothing more than to disappear because of the shame of their actions, but that is part of both the process and the punishment. People have a right to know what has gone on in their communities.

However, sometimes judges have sympathy for defendants who claim publicity will have an unduly adverse effect on them and their families and reporting is banned. There is one such case going through the Edinburgh courts just now and despite the original incident receiving widespread publicity the public will never know the details of the case or the outcome. A legal challenge was considered but abandoned because there was little chance of success.

But the truth is that the vast majority of people going through the criminal courts can justifiably claim that reports of their misdeeds could cause lasting damage to their families, so the precedents are now being set which should give any defendant the right to have the Press bench cleared. To save a lot of time and money, maybe the Crown Office could consider a ‘No publicity’ tick box on the charge sheets, just like the Lottery.

Now let’s get on with the show

SO, Councillor Lezley Cameron didn’t have to be press-ganged into being the city’s vice convener after all, which will teach me to try to make informed guesses. The role of deputy Lord Provost went instead to her colleague Joan Griffiths, a kirk elder and former housing convener who commands cross-party respect and is a worthy occupant of the post.

And today, just under two months and three full council meetings since the election, the members finally get down to their first full agenda. With school building reports and fire safety to consider among many other things, there is a bit of catching up to do.