Posted on 13 Apr 2015 by Marion
THERE ARE FEW WHO, WHEN THEY HEAR OF SOMETHING HORRIBLE... SAY, LISTLESSLY, THAT IT IS 'VERY WRONG', AND A 'GREAT PITY', AND THAT THEY 'WONDER WHY IT IS SUBMITTED TO' AND 'SURELY SOMEBODY WILL INTERFERE'; AND THEN THEY CAST THE MATTER FROM THEM, AND CAN NEVER BE MADE TO STIR A FINGER ABOUT IT. MEANWHILE, THE MISCHIEF PROCEEDS.
LORD COCKBURN, 1849
As we prepare for our 140th AGM we reflect on the past year and where we are now. Reports from our various committees highlight increasing concern regarding the lack of a coherent vision for our city of Edinburgh in the face of some significant challenges.
Our Strategic Planning and Environment Committee reports:
'Public disquiet about the use of the planning system to facilitate growth, in both urban and rural situations, to the detriment of the natural and cultural heritage has increased during the year. Much of SPEC’s work has sought to identify the relevant issues and possible partners to raise these concerns by appropriate means with the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council'
Cases Committee reports:
'Concerns remain regarding the on-going pressures on the Green Belt, failure to develop brownfield sites within the City to an appropriate density and the level of student accommodation proposed in various residential areas within the city.'
and goes on to mention a number of contentious developments:
South St Andrew Square, where a listed building was de-listed and subsequently demolished, now cleared and awaits redevelopment. The south-east corner of St Andrew Square, along West Register Street, is also to be redeveloped and a listed building is proposed to be demolished.
Craighouse, the former Napier campus on Easter Craiglockhart Hill, gained planning permission for restoration of the old hospital buildings as well as enabling developments in the form of blocks of flats and townhouses. We objected to the majority of the new developments on the site and remain of the opinion that enabling development was not justified. The site is currently for sale.
The redevelopment of the St James Centre raises concerns regarding skyline issues, height of buildings, materials and pedestrian permeability through the site.
The University of Edinburgh is a major landowner and developer in the city and they are currently working on plans for the second stage at Potterrow as well as refurbishment and restoration projects for the Old College and Edinburgh College of Art and student accommodation Buccleuch Street and Meadow Lane.
Perhaps the most controversial project is the proposal to redevelop the former Royal High School for a luxury hotel operator. The pre-application discussions have taken place and the project is to be presented to the Council’s Urban Design Panel (at which we have a seat) in early May. The Royal High School is an enormously valuable architectural asset which the Cockburn Association is working hard to protect. The extraordinarily dramatic setting of this internationally important Greek Revival building is unique in the world and now seriously under threat. The proposed hotel wings to either side of the main building would, if given planning consent, permanently alter the setting of the building and the very nature and character of Calton Hill. We question whether development can be justified on this site.
In the words of our Chairman, Lord Brodie:
"... Edinburgh faces the prospect of very considerable commercial development, supported by the City Council, occurring over just a few years and concentrated in the most sensitive part of its urban environment.
Not all of that is necessarily a bad thing. The scene from Thomas Hamilton’s portico is not one of unalloyed beauty and, in the last two centuries at least, it may never have been. The gap site between Calton Road and the Canongate is an eyesore and the backs of the buildings on the High Street are not universally attractive. There is scope for improvement. The extent to which the “New Waverley” development achieves that remains be seen. Moreover, I take the City Council’s Chief Executive to be correct in what she is quoted as saying in The Edinburgh 12 bulletin for February to the effect that a prosperous future for the city is connected to the provision of inward investment opportunities. Clearly, a city is not a static thing and when plots of ground or buildings are no longer being put to one use, an alternative use must be found if they are not to lie derelict and unproductive. The objects of the Cockburn Association include the support of development that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. We accept that without development, provided it is of sufficiently high quality, Edinburgh is unlikely to continue to prosper. That said, there will be cases where it is much better to let pass the first, or even second, offered “development opportunity” if the consequence of that development is the loss or defacement of a building which is integral to making Edinburgh what it is. I would see the proposal for the old Royal High School which led to my visit in February to fall within this category. This is not just a question of aesthetics. The City’s Chief Executive is right when she says that we in Edinburgh have an enviable quality of life (something which I would see as intimately bound up with the nature of our built environment). She is no doubt also right when she says that Edinburgh is an extremely attractive place to do business. I do not imagine that it has escaped her for a moment that these two facts are closely connected."
Our 140th AGM will be held on Tuesday evening, 30 June 2015. Members will receive papers in May including information on the election of 5 members to the Cockburn Council.
If you are not a member then please consider joining us to support our work and contribute to the debate on creating a vision for the future of Edinburgh. Members can join our committees, volunteer on specific projects and contribute their experience and expertise to our work. We are an independent voice and rely entirely on our members' contributions, donations and legacy gifts.