Martin Hannan: The boil at top of Walk lanced

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If there is one building I positively detest in Edinburgh, it’s the St James Centre, which for me is the very definition of an architectural carbuncle.

I know that shoppers like going there and it is very useful to have a shopping centre at the top of Leith Walk, but why oh why did the planning authorities back in the 1960s and early 1970s give this hideous building the go-ahead?

It sums up the whole rotten phenomenon that was new Brutalist architecture. It is simply horrible to look at from any angle, and while I am no believer in preserving the ancient look of Edinburgh at all costs, surely someone with some sense back then could have been like the child in the Emperor’s New Clothes and pointed out what we all know – the design was cheap, nasty and as out of place as a seagull in the Sahara.

So I was delighted last week when a special hearing of the development management sub-committee voted in favour of a crunch element in the £850 million plan to replace the centre.

Make no mistake, there was real doubt as to whether the redevelopment of the centre would take place due to the vital issue of the stone cladding for the building.

It came down to a choice between sandstone and limestone and I know what you’re thinking – who cares? The heritage experts argued that sandstone would be more in keeping with the rest of the city centre – have they walked along Princes Street recently? – while the developers argued that a supply of the right type of sandstone just wasn’t available, and limestone was the only real choice.

The sub-text was that using sandstone would add an unacceptable cost, though indeed one of the development team admitted that sandstone would not render the project unviable in itself.

The risk was to do with the surety of supply, not just the finance, and the subsequent technical arguments about weathering and design caused enough questions and debate to last a lifetime, though in fact the whole meeting took less than three hours.

What impressed me was that the councillors on the sub-committee got to the point of this main stone issue and thrashed it out, asking good, sensible questions that made the development team think and give equally good and sensible answers.

The convener, Ian Perry, wanted more debate and sought a further meeting to discuss the issues, but the majority of councillors on the committee had heard enough, and I agree with them – a delay would only have put off the decision which most councillors had reached.

It was democracy at work, and I believe the councillors eventually took the right decision. The St James Centre is about 40 years out of date and should have been demolished long ago. Now the builders can get going and get the carbuncle lanced.

The design for the new St James Quarter isn’t perfect but it looks a zillion times better than the existing centre, and it’s an example of modern architecture that is trying to harmonise with its surroundings.

The management of John Lewis aren’t happy with the loss of space they will suffer, but I believe that issue will be resolved and they will continue in a place that is no longer a monstrosity.

Business as usual

There was astonishment on the airwaves yesterday when a van caught fire on the bypass and caused six-mile tailbacks. Sorry, media people, that’s standard delay at rush hour on the bypass these days.

Alistair should be out for the count

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Alistair Carmichael should resign and fight a by-election, and I’m not just saying that because my party the SNP might gain another seat – we’ve got plenty, thank you.

The section of the Representation of the People Act which is becoming central to the case is 115 (2) (b) which states “A person shall be guilty of undue influence if by . . . any fraudulent device or contrivance, he impedes or prevents or intends to impede or prevent, the free exercise of the franchise of an elector.”

Hopefully that wise judge Lady Paton will tomorrow conclude that in view of the fact that Carmichael’s leak was a “fraudulent device”, that he should face a full hearing.

All Rhodes lead to Greek crisis

IT’S not often I check the headlines every other minute of the day for news from Greece but the whole Greek mess is a major preoccupation for me at the moment. The reason is simple – I’m off to Rhodes on my holidays at the end of the month, and right now the talk of Eurozone and Grexit isn’t all Greek to me.

Sir Tom would never have stood for this

As regular readers will know, I often hand out compliments to local firms that give good service, and I’m always happy to pass on recommendations from readers. It is only fair, then, to hand out some brickbats on occasion, too.

Despite me telling one of their call centre operatives that I haven’t owned a particular car for many months, KwikFit have continued to call and write to remind me about an MOT test for the car.

We get enough cold calling, sleazy spam and dodgy mail without a respected company annoying us unnecessarily. Wouldn’t have happened in Tom Farmer’s day.