Castle Terrace car park decision makes a bad situation worse – Kevin Buckle

The Castle Terrace site has massive potential, but developers now face an additional hurdle, writes Kevin Buckle

By Kevin Buckle
Saturday, 26th October 2019, 6:00 am
The Castle Terrace car park now has category B listed status. Picture: Jon Savage
The Castle Terrace car park now has category B listed status. Picture: Jon Savage

My first involvement with Edinburgh Council outwith simply paying my rates was when Avalanche moved to the Grassmarket as part of an idea to create a cool arts hub that would attract more like-minded businesses after the pedestrianisation.

That idea was quickly abandoned by the council, though of course things have now come full circle with a similar idea proposed by the owners of Waverley Mall. Stupidly not learning my lesson I then agreed at the request of the council to advise those developers looking to buy the council land at the top of King’s Stables Road as the council wanted “interesting” retail, an arts hub and a popular attraction to go along with a hotel and other accommodation.

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Again that idea was abandoned when the council simply took the highest bid and to this day they refuse to say how much this amount has been reduced to on the basis that as yet they don’t have all the money!

There was meant to be some small consolation that there was a second part to this plan when the car park beyond the tunnel in King’s Stables Road was redeveloped in a couple of years’ time and there was no way the council could make the same mistakes again.

The car park is a huge site and could accommodate several ideas including housing a relocated Filmhouse and a music venue or even a concert hall. Other ideas were for a continental-style food market and an arts emporium. More recently with doubts over parking in George Street even those who were keen to see things move forward next year accepted that maybe the current lease might be extended for a year or two while the council assessed how much of the space could be kept for parking and how much would be used to improve the look and attraction of the area. This indeed is what happened as a decision was delayed.

Of course this was not just about redeveloping the area but fulfilling a long-held wish to encourage more footfall which had been faced with a derelict site and a dilapidated car park, not to mention an off-putting tunnel linking the two, for many years.

Some hardliners would like to see no car park at all but most just saw it as getting the right balance between a new car park and other facilities and then getting the right mix with those new facilities.

A few argued that a brand new car park should be built and nothing else. However there was one thing everybody was agreed on and that was the current car park had to go and that it was well beyond repair and indeed already possibly a danger to the public.

Imagine my surprise then, and believe me I thought there was nothing left about this that could surprise me, when I read on Thursday that Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has this week awarded the very same Castle Terrace Car Park Category B listed status, saying the Brutalist building boasts an “unparalleled” design and deserves the second-highest designation possible.

One quote from HES may be telling and that was: “It was also carefully conceived not to interfere with views of Edinburgh Castle.” Hopefully knowing demolition was likely they have done this so the same footprint is maintained, something that was always to be the case from all I had heard, so this listing would be a heavy-handed way indeed of achieving that and only makes what was already a complicated site to develop even more so while reducing its value.

Whatever happens, the intervention of HES will only delay something that is needed sooner rather than later.