Key Quote: "In any other major city in Europe, I don't think sites would be developed this way, without open competition of designs available for scrutiny or debate." Peter Wilson, of Napier University
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SCOTLAND'S capital risks losing the "distinctive character" that makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site if it fails to get the balance right on new development, the director of the city's heritage trust has warned.
Zoe Clark, director of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said the Old Town, in the historic heart of the city, was facing "unprecedented pressure for redevelopment".
Edinburgh's OId and New Towns were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust struggles to conserve the city's architectural heritage with a budget of just 1.1 million a year. And the city centre is facing a string of developments worth hundreds of millions of pounds that could reshape its face from Princes Street to the Royal Mile.
At the 200 million Caltongate development, plans to demolish two buildings on the Royal Mile, along with a listed Victorian school, have been bitterly opposed. The development would produce a five-star hotel, apartment and conference complex in the Waverley Valley. Trust staff are now voicing concerns over other sites, such as the 16th century Advocate's Close, where former council properties in some of the oldest areas of the Royal Mile are being sold.
UNESCO - the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation - has become more active recently in defending 800 World Heritage sites around the world, particularly in Europe.
It placed the Elbe Valley in Germany on the "endangered" list over a proposed bridge, persuaded Vienna to block a high-rise building and last year sent inspectors into the Tower of London over the threat of looming new skyscrapers.
The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust manages, protects, enhances and promotes the site on behalf of UNESCO.
Ian Murray, Edinburgh City Council's deputy planning convener, insisted that when leading UNESCO officials visited last year, they had nothing but praise.
Mr Murray said yesterday that the council was pursuing a "fine balance" on development.
"The council take the world heritage site as the most serious issue we deal with," he said. He added that the council had moved to rid the city of "real eyesores" in the centre.
But Ms Clark, whose local heritage body is part-funded by the council, warned the demolition of any building in the Old Town must be "carefully examined".
The scale of new buildings must enhance the city's contours and views, "not be driven by developers' commercial concerns".
"The Old Town is facing unprecedented pressure for redevelopment and Edinburgh has got to get it right if the city is to retain the distinctive character that its economy and tourism industry rely on and that make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site," she said.
Edinburgh can balance conservation and development, as long as new development "reinforces that all important sense of place rather than destroying it".
The medieval character of the Royal Mile lies in its narrow wynds and closes, arching down in a herringbone shape, where wynds open to magnificent views.
By contrast new buildings, from the Caltongate to the 40 million new glass-domed hotel planned on the Cowgate fire site, make their first appearance via computer simulations.
The heritage trust is currently drawing up a new statement setting out the significance of the Edinburgh World Heritage site. The trust says major projects - from Quartermile and Caltongate to plans to replace and enlarge the St James Centre on the east end of Princes Street - should be considered together, not one by one.
Last week the trust unveiled, along with Edinburgh City Council, the Skyline project to establish what are the key skyline views and vistas in the city, such as those around Edinburgh Castle. It will also assess where tall buildings may be more appropriate, as on south-west approaches to the city or in Leith.
The project would not set height limits but aims to protect Edinburgh Castle, for example, from buildings that obstruct views or even loom behind it.
Ironically, activists with the Save Our Old Town organisation claim the council's new headquarters has breached its own height guidelines on views down the Waverley Valley. It has certainly blocked views from Jeffrey Street, in the Old Town, across to the classic Greek-revival building of the Royal High School on Calton Hill.
Heritage staff feel they have already lost one major battle over the 400 million Quartermile development - which overlooks the Meadows from its site at the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - where 19th Century buildings by classic architects were demolished.
Ms Clark has spoken out strongly against the planned demolition of three buildings at the Caltongate, including two tenement buildings on the Royal Mile itself, to open access on to the Mile.
Several Edinburgh architects complain of the rate of change, and the alleged lack of open competition. Even though their job is about creating buildings, one said: "I feel too much is being lost at the moment."
UNESCO feels the developments have to be looked at together for the impact on the city. "It's too late for Quartermile. It's not too late for Caltongate," another said.
The architect Malcolm Fraser, whose projects include the award-winning Dance Base and the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, said the trust needs to speak out more. "I think they have the opportunity to show more leadership.
"The trouble for us architects is that there are so many organisations out there - MSPs, community groups, heritage groups - and we go from one to another and they all say different things.
"They should show more leadership and be convening these groups, bringing them together in one place so that there's one place to talk about the centre of Edinburgh."
Peter Wilson, of Napier University, the project architect on the Museum of Scotland, said architects could not turn out pastiche copies of historic buildings. But he added that there was not enough open competition for major city sites.
"In any other major city in Europe, I don't think sites would be developed this way, without open competition of designs available for scrutiny or debate."
Mark Cummings, a spokesman for the Caltongate developer Mountgrange said the masterplan for the site had been developed by Edinburgh City Council in consultation with the local community and the business community.
He said: "All the proposals are in keeping with the planning policy for the area. The World Heritage Trust was a key consultee.
"We think that a five-star hotel is an additional gain to Edinburgh that far outweighs the loss of the school."
HERITAGE HAS A HIGH PRICE IN CITY OF ARCHITECTURAL TREASURES
MAINTAINING and using Edinburgh's architectural heritage is not cheap. Even the cobbles on the Royal Mile have their price.
Edinburgh City Council fought a court battle with a contractor paid 4.5 million to re-cobble the famous road in the mid-1990s after it was alleged stones had begun giving way under vehicles.
Meanwhile, after nine years and 7 million repairing stonework and stained-glass windows, the 900-year-old St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is nearing the end of its revamp. A fundraising bid is now under way to buy a 2 million lighting system with 24 chandeliers to better illuminate the building's glories. To date, work has run from repairs on the tower and crown spire to a restoration of the Thistle Chapel.
The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust has about 1.1 million a year to spend on conservation projects. But it says VAT rules requiring a 17.5 per cent charge on repairs and restoration means nearly a fifth of the cash ends up with the Treasury - while no VAT is charged on new buildings.
The businessman and prominent Catholic donor, Sir Tom Farmer, is funding a bid to buy the derelict United Presbyterian Church on Blackfriars Street. As yet, there is no estimate on what it would cost to turn the empty church into an "interfaith residence and cultural centre" for Tibetan Buddhist monks and Mother Teresa nuns.
The Queen's Gallery at Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse was inaugurated by the Queen in 2002. The Queen's Gallery was built in the shell of the former Holyrood Free Church and the 19th Century Duchess of Gordon's School at the entrance to the Palace.
It has hosted major exhibitions from the Royal Art Collection. The project, run by Edinburgh-based Benjamin Tindall Architects, cost 3 million. Tindall turned the building into a first-floor gallery with a sweeping staircase rising up to it.
The 3 million Scottish Storytelling Centre on the capital's Royal Mile is far removed from some of the Royal Mile's bigger developments. It is also in one of the most sensitive sites, nestled against the famous 15th-century John Knox House, a historic building in the heart of the World Heritage site. Architects Malcolm Fraser opted for a modern bell tower made of Dunhouse Grey stone and a stainless steel and glass front.
The Hub, the Edinburgh International Festival Centre on the Royal Mile, was an instant hit with visitors in 2000. The Gothic former Tollbooth church was refurbished, also by Tindall - at a cost of 7.5 million - to house a coffee house and restaurant, gift shop, ticket facilities, with the Dunard Library upstairs.
A 200 million development on the 5.2 acre site promises a five-star, glass-fronted 200 bed hotel, 200 new flats and 100 serviced apartments. Plans include a major new walkway to replace the existing Jacob's ladder current through-route, a new urban square and a cultural quarter.
The building replaces the former bus depot but will also demolish a listed Victorian school and two tenement buildings on the Royal Mile itself, in order to provide access to the hotel. Critics s are wary of the impact on Waverley Valley views, and question how the local area will accommodate the inrush of people and cars.
According to conservationists a bitter battle has been fought and lost, over the 400 million Quartermile development to turn the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary into luxury homes and facilities.
Blocks of flats will turn the skyline over the Royal Meadows from the gentle, pointed profile of the building designed by David Bryce in the 1870s to "slabs", said one critic. Some historic 18th and 19th century buildings have been retained on the site by architects Sidney Mitchell and William Adam , but others have been demolished - to the fury of protesters.
The Lothian Regional Council headquarters on the corner of George IV Bridge and the Lawnmarket are set to be replaced by The Bridge. The Bank of Scotland is backing the project, which includes a 130 bed hotel and would also be the base for the only bank branch on the Royal Mile.
The 1970s building was little loved - then council leader Donald Anderson called it "horrible" - but plans for its replacement, on what is said to be the oldest viaduct in Europe, will be closely watched.
Buildings in and around Advocate's Close, off the heart of the Royal Mile, are being sold off by the council after its move to new headquarters. Developers will clearly have to work with existing buildings here.The buildings could be developed for housing, retail, or a small hotel. They include 19th century buildings on Cockburn Street and St Giles Street, and A listed buildings on the High Street and Advocate's Close. No's 2 and 4 Advocate's Close were built for Clement Cor, an Edinburgh burgess, in 1588. There is also a four-storey tenement dating from 1615.
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