Looking at the issues addressed by the Cockburn Association over the first 100 years of its existence is a reminder that Edinburgh’s qualities have been threatened in many ways over many years. Perhaps this has helped to shape the Cockburn Association and helped it to shape the Edinburgh of more recent times.
Here are a few landmark issues to remind us that controversy over how the City develops has a long history.
References to preventing building on the south side of Princes Street and to the Glasgow Railway will serve to make the point that we win some and we lose some.
Trees, gardens and open spaces have been under threat since early in Cockburn’s time.
In the 1960s we opposed and lost a number of cases. Some of the consequent unfortunate impact on the City can be read today in such charmless developments as the St James Centre, and other office buildings of the era like Argyle House, Canning House (now re-clad and re-branded as Exchange Tower) and the DHSS Office at Haymarket.
The Water of Leith Walkway is, in some respects, not truly completed, even today, but what we have is very much due to constant pressure from the Cockburn.
The Edinburgh Airport Runway decision in the 1970s reminds us that you can win the argument but still lose the war – the Secretary of State overturned his Reporter’s Finding against its construction.
We nearly had the Inner Ring Road of 6-lane motorway standard proposed by the City Engineer in the 1965 Quinquennial Review of the City’s Development Plan.
More recently we successfully opposed the Princes Street Galleries proposal, for a shopping arcade beneath the street, at a public inquiry.
In October 2009, we had a resounding success in winning a successful outcome to the Public Local Inquiry, into the proposal to build a 17-storey hotel at Haymarket. The outcome of this case is already in use as teaching material in Canada, whence we brought our star witness, Herb Stovel, who was a key figure on the UNESCO team which accorded Edinburgh its World Heritage status 14 years ago.
Our part in the Inquiry cost us almost £30,000 in direct costs and we awaited the outcome with some degree of concern and anxiety. We derived some confidence in our purpose from the fact that our members and benefactors raised the funds to cover most of this, although the hidden costs of concentrating all of our limited resources on this single issue for four months are still coming to light. However, as so often happens in such cases, the Developer re-grouped his team and his ideas put forward fresh proposals for the site. Sadly, we did not like these either.
Edinburgh's qualities have been threatened in many ways over many years
The creation and development of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee and the Old Town Conservation and Renewal Trust and their combination as the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, and the grants they were able to give, led to the successful retention and regeneration of the residential character of the City centre and its designation as a World Heritage Site in 1995.
It was an important aspect of our case against the Haymarket hotel project that the City had given insufficient weight to the potential impact of that project on the World Heritage Site. Incredibly, it was a part of the developer’s case that the proposed hotel was not in the World Heritage Site; it was on the other side of the street!