Edinburgh’s ‘Covent Garden’ on hold over heritage concerns

Artist's impression of the proposed development in South St Andrew Street and West Register Street. Picture: Gareth Hoskins Architects
Artist's impression of the proposed development in South St Andrew Street and West Register Street. Picture: Gareth Hoskins Architects
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PLANS to transform a neglected maze of city centre back streets into a district of high-class shops, restaurants and businesses have been held up amid concern over the impact on historic buildings.

Bosses at developer Chris Stewart Group (CSG) have submitted revised blueprints for the West Register Street scheme after proposals to bulldoze a B-listed Victorian tenement led to an objection from Historic Environment Scotland.

It has also emerged that ministers decided to call in CSG’s application for listed building consent (LBC).

The £60 million revamp – considered key to the wider redevelopment of the East End – will see lanes next to St Andrew Square turned into what has been billed as the Capital’s answer to Covent Garden in London.

In a statement, leaders at Scott Hobbs Planning, who are working with CSG, said: “The purpose of the amended LBC application is to address the objection of Historic Environment Scotland.

“The amended proposals include a conservation-led approach to the design of the mansard roof and dormers associated with the Venetian Gothic building at 28 West Register Street, a reduction in the floorspace at roof level for that building and the introduction of features to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the new build and the elements of the Venetian Gothic building to be retained.”

CSG has insisted its scheme will act as a “gateway” to the £850m redevelopment of the 
St James Centre.

The firm has also promised to replicate the success it enjoyed with its multi-award-winning Advocate’s Close regeneration in the Old Town.

Ministers have confirmed they will not intervene in the council’s handling of the general planning application.

In December, members of the city’s development management sub-committee revealed they were “minded to grant” the West Register Street bid subject to legal agreement and referral to the Scottish Government.

Heritage watchdogs today said the amended LBC application had done little to allay fears over the development’s impact.

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “The gist of our previous objection remains – there is no empathy between what is there and what is proposed.

“We are particularly concerned about the demolition of the category B-listed Victorian tenement at 38 West Register Street.

“We note the applicant’s Heritage Report comments on its complementary relationship with the Café Royal group and its urban design contribution.

“It is a rather plain and unassuming Georgian-style sandstone tenement which acts as a foil to the exuberant Venetian Gothic next door. In scale, [the tenement] is a very positive component of the local urban design and, being of a style and type not represented elsewhere in the immediate neighbourhood, its loss would be significant.”

Scottish Government officials said their assessment of the amended application was “ongoing” and “at an early stage”.