Full cost of Edinburgh's first new concert hall for a century still unknown as work finally begins
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) has not ruled out the final cost of its 1,000-capacity New Town venue topping £100 million and is unable to say when it will be ready to stage its first concerts.
The cost of the Dunard Centre, estimated around £45m when it was first announced six years ago, went up to £75m in 2021 after a protracted legal battle with the developers of the nearby St James Quarter delayed the project for more than two years.
The SCO said it did not want to speculate on what the final bill would be while talks were ongoing with contractors.
However, the orchestra insisted the project, led by the charitable trust Impact Scotland, was on track as work began to clear and remove an office block behind an historic Royal Bank of Scotland building on St Andrew Square. New drone footage was also released showing the site of the venue, which will open up public access to several New Town lanes.
The Dunard Centre, which will also become a major new venue for the Edinburgh International Festival, is being partly bankrolled by an arts charity created by an American arts philanthropist, Carol Colburn Grigor.
However, the venue, which will also be used regularly by the Dunedin Consort and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, is also being funded to the tune of £25m by the UK and Scottish governments, and the city council.
One of Britain’s leading architects, Sir David Chipperfield, and the Tokyo-based concert hall specialists Nagata Acoustics, have been working for years on the new venue.
SCO chief executive Gavin Reid would not be drawn on whether any additional public funding would be needed for the project, which construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine is working on. However, he admitted the official fundraising target for backing from other donors was expected to be higher than a previous target of £15m.
Work has started on site behind the RBS building Dundas House despite huge uncertainty over the future of another major cultural development in the city due to the impact of soaring construction costs and inflation.
The operators of the King’s Theatre have pleaded with the two governments and the council to help rescue a long-awaited refurbishment to bridge a £9m funding gap, which has seen the overall bill rise to an estimated £35m.
Mr Reid said a cost rise for the Dunard Centre was inevitable due to the economic climate, but would not quantify how its estimated cost had been affected so far.
He said: “Today is day one in terms of the contractors going on site for work to start to bring down the bank building, floor by floor. It is physically attached to Dundas House, so it’s quite a delicate operation.
“The site clearance works will take place through most of the rest of this year and we are planning to be on site starting construction of the new building towards the end of this year. We’ve been working with McAlpine for a while now on a very detailed construction plan and programme.
“As the demolition and site clearance takes place in the coming months, that plan and programme will become more detailed and more clearly defined. We’re talking about a few years. I wouldn’t like to be more specific on that at the moment. It would be daft for me to say it will be this year or that year. It is unlikely to be less than three years.
“We’re coming to the end of stage four design, which gives us a very clear idea of what the building is going to be like and its detailed design. We’re going through a tender process at the moment with McAlpine and all of their sub-contractors to break down the construction programme into a lot of detailed packages, which are being costed and worked on.
“We’re in the middle of that process. It would be really premature to give any kind of overall figure at the moment, but by the summer we’ll have a pretty clear idea of the overall cost.”
Asked whether it was possible the final cost of the concert hall could top £100m in the light of the dramatic increase in the cost of the King’s refurbishment due to external factors, Mr Reid said: “I wouldn’t like to speculate."
He added: “Our project is going to be subject to some degree of market volatility and some degree of inflationary volatility, of course it is. But we have got a team of experts working on this in a very detailed way. As and when we have that greater certainty on the cost, which we expect to have by the summer, we will be in a position to talk about.”
Asked if further public funding may be needed to help meet the new cost of the venue, Mr Reid said: "At the moment, we have tremendous support from the City Region Deal of £25m, we have remarkable philanthropy from the Dunard Fund of £35m and are really buoyed by a very encouraging response from other donors from our active fundraising campaign. I wouldn’t make any assumptions at this point.
“We have an extraordinary base of financial support, we’re working through the tendering process and construction plan and when we’re in a process to talk further about the cost, of course, we will do so. I don’t think it would be particularly appropriate to talk about our specific fundraising target at the moment.”
Mark Gibson, managing director northern at SRM, said: “We’ve long been associated with the construction of iconic, bespoke buildings and we look forward to working alongside Impact Scotland on delivering this initial phase of the Dunard Centre and completing the concert hall in the fullness of time."