Edinburgh Caltongate regeneration plans unveiled

An artist's impression of the Venture building, part of the Caltongate development
An artist's impression of the Venture building, part of the Caltongate development
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NEW images have been unveiled outlining scaled-back plans for one of the largest gap sites in Edinburgh.

• Caltongate development will feature new hotels, shops, homes and offices

• Plans have been scaled back as project suffered series of delays

The Caltongate development will feature new hotels, shops, homes and offices as part of a major regeneration of the Old Town district.

The site covers a large wasteland between Waverley railway station and the Royal Mile, which has lay largely unused for several years since original developers Mountgrange collapsed four years ago.

Caltongate has been hit by a series of failures to get the project off the ground, with South African consortium Artisan taking over the project in December 2011.

This is also the first time the new firm has outlined its vision for the area and released images for an exhibition launching today.

Artisan intends to begin construction work on the north section of the site, immediately beneath the Scottish Government headquarters at St Andrew’s House, later this year.

Two listed properties, the Victorian-era Canongate Venture building on Market Street and The Old Sailor’s Ark on the Canongate, had been earmarked for full or partial demolition under the previous plans, but will now be retained.

Artisan intend to transform the ageing Venture building, a former school, into a bar or hotel but with additional space for community use.

The centrepiece of the site was expected to be a five-star hotel with a large conference centre.

A fall in demand for such facilities had led to the scaling back of the conference facility, and although the hotel is expected to be upmarket, it is not clear whether developers will manage to attract a five-star operator.
An elevated bridge running across New Street was also planned but attracted concerns that the impressive views of Calton Hill from the Canongate would be significantly impeded, and have now been dropped altogether.

Alongside the flagship buildings on the site is a row of arches and disused garages across from the Edinburgh City Council headquarters, which would be transformed into an artisan quarter. Developers hope to attract artist studios and independent companies.

The Caltongate development is the South African company’s first project in Europe and claims the £300m investment will regenerate the Old Town area.

Lukas Nakos, managing director, said: “We have the opportunity to create, in the very heart of Edinburgh, one of Europe’s most exciting and vibrant mixed-use communities which will set an international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development.

“During the last year, we have listened to a huge variety of views and opinions on the development of the site, and heard impassioned arguments relating to its unique importance, setting, heritage and community.

“Our new vision reflects this varied and dynamic consultation process and we feel we now have a proposal which balances ambitious and exciting commercial priorities with a genuine understanding of the area’s community and civic context.”

Mr Nakos admitted that the project, which was originally revealed 12 years ago, is now “long overdue” and his company is keen to begin development as soon as possible.

He added: “This is a long overdue opportunity to revitalise a strategic city centre location between Waverley Station and the Scottish Parliament – whilst being part of the very fabric of the historic heart of the city.

“The location is the missing piece of the jigsaw which will see the rejuvenation of the Old Town as a vibrant commercial and social quarter of international appeal.”

Euan Leitch, assistant director at the Cockburn Association, told The Scotsman that the civic trust was pleased that the two buildings had been retained.

He said: “The two main aspects we are pleased about is that the Canongate Venture, a landmark building of value and potential use, has been retained. “Obviously we had also wanted to keep the view from Jeffrey Street so the fact they are being kept is a significant gain.
“In terms of the arches on Market Street, we understand that the council, which own these, intend to rent them to the developers for a peppercorn rent, and we would hope that Artisan will in turn be able to attract the artistic community while keeping rents low.”

The original scheme behind the Caltongate project was first unveiled in 2001, gaining planning consent the following year. In 2004, the site was sold to London-based developer Mountgrange Capital which opted to develop more expansive plans, approved in 2008. The company collapsed in 2009, leaving Caltongate in the hands of administrator Deloitte until a deal was announced with Artisan in December 2011.

The current drop-in community exhibition will be held in at the Canongate Venture building today, Thursday, 14 March from 11.00 am to 8.00pm, and on Saturday, 16 March from 10.00 am to 12.30 pm.