Capital developers given cultural ‘call to action’

Developers, such as the ones behind the planned New Waverley site, will be told to add cultural elements in the future. Picture: Contributed
Developers, such as the ones behind the planned New Waverley site, will be told to add cultural elements in the future. Picture: Contributed
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MAJOR developments in Scotland’s capital will be told to incorporate cultural elements in their plans in future under a drive to bolster Edinburgh’s artistic scene.

Senior councillors have pledged to redraw the city’s planning policies and insist developers make space for artists in their masterplans as part of a new drive to give culture a greater priority.

In its first response to a “call to action” from the cultural 
sector demanding more protection for existing cultural venues, the city council admitted arts and culture was too often sidelined from “mixed-use” developments.

Deputy council leader Sandy Howat admitted the whole city needed to change its view of its cultural scene and festivals as an “entertainment industry”.

He pledged that they would no longer be regarded as a “sideline” by the council and would be recognised in future policies as being at “the very heart of the city”.

Mr Howat said developers would be told to pay more heed in future to what venues were already in an area and asked what they would be doing to enhance the city’s cultural offering.

The new emphasis for the arts sector could have a major impact on emerging plans for the replacement for the St James quarter and the east side of St Andrew Square. Other land ­expected to be developed in the next few years includes 
gap sites on the banks of the Union Canal – which have been touted as a potential new homes for the Traverse Theatre and the Filmhouse – and the city’s ­waterfront.

The council has been under fire over its stewardship of the cultural sector in recent years, with important sites like the Picture House, on Lothian Road, and The Venue, on Calton Road, forced to close their doors.

The Bongo Club on New Street was demolished to make way for the controversial Caltongate development. Victorian arches earmarked for a new cultural quarter as part of the scheme, which has now been relaunched as New Waverley, are instead being proposed for cafes, bars and ­restaurants.

An “arts hotel” proposed five years ago for the former Royal High School on Calton Hill has since been ditched.

Promoters of live music events in the city have accused the council of giving too much weight to lone objectors who move in next to existing venues, while other critics have accused the council of going out of its way to accommodate events during the festivals only to enforce much stricter policies outwith August.

Mr Howat said: “Festivals and culture in the city go together. You cannot have an active festival scene without a wider cultural scene behind it.

“We have to look at how to change local and national planning policies, but it’s really about getting all developers to understand that the cultural heart of the city should be at the heart of their projects.

“People often talk about mixed developments and having hotels, restaurants, accommodation and offices in there. They see the point of having a mix and building a community but the one thing they don’t talk about is culture.

“If you’re trying to harness a living community and are creating facilities for people living, working and playing then culture should form part of that.

“When a development of any scale happens in future we should be recognising who is already there and what the project can add to the wider cultural scene. We need to change how the city views its culture and its festivals. We view them as economically advantageous and very much as an entertainment industry.

“They’re almost seen as being a bit of a sideline of the city. We should recognise them as being at the very heart of the city.”