City leaders say almost all of Edinburgh’s most important historic buildings have now been saved

It is a transformation that has secured the future of some of Edinburgh’s best-known landmarks, secured the future of long-neglected sites and given centuries-old treasures a new lease of life.

As Edinburgh emerges from the pandemic, city leaders have declared almost all of the city’s most important historic buildings have now been saved.

A decade’s worth of developments and deals struck during the two years of the pandemic are said to have tackled the vast majority of those said to be “at risk” across Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.

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Just two buildings with a category A-listing from government agency Historic Environment Scotland are expected to remain on the official register once a raft of ongoing projects in the Old and New Towns is complete.

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    Projects finished over the past decade include the redevelopment of a former Royal Bank of Scotland building on St Andrew Square into the Edinburgh Grand Hotel, the transformation of the 17th-century townhouse off the Canongate where economist Adam Smith lived into a new headquarters for Heriot Watt’s business school, the conversion of a former home from astronomers on Calton Hill into luxury apartments, and a revamp of the 500-year Riddle’s Court tenement off the Lawnmarket to create a new events space.

    Ongoing projects include a new Virgin Hotel, on the site of the former India Buildings complex in the Old Town, and the transformation of the former Forsyth’s department store on Princes Street into a new hotel.

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    Long-awaited agreements have also recently been reached to create a National Centre for Music at the former Royal High School on Calton Hill into and a new visitor centre at the 17th-century Tron Kirk.

    Two A-listed sites still said to be at risk include the upper floors of All Bar One’s building on George Street, which is planned to be converted into flats, and a property on Dublin Street North that has recently been sold.

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    The former Royal High School on Calton Hill is to be turned into a new National Centre for Music.

    Neil Gardiner, the city council’s planning convener, said: “We work extremely hard with our partners, including Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland, to protect our historic built environment, and with owners to support them to find the best outcome for their properties.

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    “Over the last ten years, we’ve helped developers make the best and most sympathetic use of many of our globally significant and architecturally stunning buildings so they can be enjoyed now and for future generations to come.

    “You only have to walk around the centre of our beautiful city to see the progress being made and restoration works completed on the ground to breathe new life into these historic and iconic buildings.”

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    A spokesperson for Edinburgh World Heritage said: “It is welcome news that so many of the city’s ‘at risk’ buildings have been conserved and given a new lease of life in order to benefit Edinburgh’s people, institutions and economy.

    The former Royal Bank of Scotland building on St Andrew Square is now home to the Edinburgh Grand hotel.
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    “This all supports our goal of protecting what makes the World Heritage Site special, while also ensuring it works for everyone in the city.

    “We have first-hand experience of the value of repurposing Edinburgh’s historic properties. In 2011 we moved into the wonderful 17th-century Acheson House, following a major programme of conservation work to take this building off the ‘at risk’ register. It had lain empty for years, but is now a busy office and library space.”

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    Iain Anderson, deputy head of survey and recording at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “We actively encourage the reuse of historic buildings and work closely with the council to identify pressures and opportunities within the historic environment.

    “The Buildings at Risk Register is used to raise awareness of the regeneration of historic buildings through the promotion of their repair and reuse.

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    Adam Smith's former home in Edinburgh's Old Town is now home to Heriot-Watt University's business school.

    "It helps us understand the pressures on Scotland’s built heritage and acts as a catalyst to link potential restorers and redevelopers with suitable buildings and sites, as well as raising awareness and encouraging sustainable end use.”

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    Depute council leader Cammy Day said: “The significant progress in bringing these iconic buildings back to life and returning them to public use demonstrates the value of development in our wonderful World Heritage site – but if it’s the right kind of development. It’s also a massive endorsement of the city’s economic buoyancy and resilience that, despite the economic recession and the current impacts of the Covid pandemic, that these developments remain viable.

    “I’ve seen first-hand the impressive progress being made on the Virgin Hotel on the site of the old India Buildings on Victoria Street – and the care and attention being devoted to preserving the original features in a building that had sadly fallen into disrepair.

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    “It’s thanks also to close working between our planners, Edinburgh World Heritage and the developer, that we were also able to save the 160 year old Cowgatehead Free Church, which is set to be restored as an events space and a central part of the local community once more.”

    The Tron Kirk, which has stood at the heart of Edinburgh's Royal Mile for nearly 400 years, has been taken over by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. Picture: Julie Bull
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    The new Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh's Old Town, which is due to open later this year, is transforming the 19th century India Buildings complex. Image: ICA