IT is a little-known corner of Edinburgh’s waterfront that is gradually being turned into a national treasure trove.
Some 12 million items have brought together over the last decade at a nondescript-looking industrial estate in the Granton area.
We have 12 million items here now, which makes it the biggest collection centre in the country by a long way. But we’ve also got much more work to do as we still have a lot of old buildings on the site, which will be demolished and replacedGordon Rintoul
A new hub created by National Museums Scotland is expected to provide “a model” for the future by combining the best-quality storage facilities with space for international research, conservation and the creation of major exhibitions.
Some £25 million has been spent in the last 10 years to bring collections stored across five different sites, including the national museum on Chambers Street, onto the one site.
But the next 10 years are set to see further radical change with a huge expansion of the site to accommodate other historic collections.
A number of post-war buildings on the site are already earmarked for demolition while a large parcel of land has just been secured by the Scottish Government to accommodate a further expansion of storage, conservation and research facilities.
The National Galleries of Scotland, which already has one building at the site, and Historic Environment Scotland, the new body being formed out of the merger of Historic Scotland and royal commission RCAHMS are both expected to create new facilities there, along with NMS.
The new £12 million facility at Granton - officially opened by Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop - has enabled the museums body to move out of two long-time storage facilities, at a former First World War naval hospital near South Queensferry and a historic customs house in Leith.
The first museums storage facilities were created in 1972 at the Granton site, which still boasts buildings dating back to the 1940s, when it opened up as a training centre for ex-servicemen.
The city council, which is leading efforts to regenerate the Granton waterfront, has agreed to dispose of a parcel of land which has been owned by its own property firm Waterfront Edinburgh.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of NMS, said: “We’ve been redeveloping this particular site for the past decade. We’ve created three new buildings at a cost of £25 million.
“We used to have five different storage sites and with the creation of this building we’ve been able to realise the ambition of having everything on a single site.
“There are obviously huge benefits in terms of reducing our operational costs, access for the public, and our staff being able to use the collections much more easily.
“We have 12 million items here now, which makes it the biggest collection centre in the country by a long way. But we’ve also got much more work to do as we still have a lot of old buildings on the site, which will be demolished and replaced.
“The key thing is this building will serve as a model for planned further facilities, where we will combine storage with access for researchers and public access from time to time on conducted tours.
“Crucially, we need space so that we can tour our exhibitions nationally and internationally. At the moment we just don’t have anywhere where we can put things together from our different stores, put them together, crate them up and ship them off somewhere.
“Our site covers 10 acres and the Scottish Government has recently purchased an area a bit smaller than that right next door. The three cultural organisations are now looking at potential synergies between all the activities. Clearly it would be a massive collection centre.
“By working together hopefully we will be able to achieve a lot more than working independently.”
Ms Hylsop, who was given a guided tour of the new three-storey building, said: “The Scottish Government values our culture and heritage. It would be unforgiveable if we did not look after our most precious objects.
“I visited the museum storage facilities myself at Port Edgar and Leith Customs House, which were not fit for purpose for a country which should be world-leading when it comes to conservation and research.
“An important aspect of this project is how much easier it now is to see things. There will be designated days for the public to come in and visit and a lot of the initial visits will be from international researchers.
“We’re looking at the whole quarter down here. This is a really important statement to have all this culture and heritage in Granton. There are options in terms of the room for manoeuvre and expansion in the area.”
A spokesman for the National Galleries of Scotland said the three organisations who were now working together on a future blueprint for the Granton site were responsible for “collections of outstanding breadth and importance.”
He added: “We have to plan for the future care and conservation of these collections and to find ways to meet the growing demand for physical and digital access to them from a wide variety of users, nationally and internationally.
“We are working together and with other partners to develop ideas and plans for a new facility in Granton for the study, research and conservation of the national collections.
“These plans are still at a very early stage and are under discussion with the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council. More details will be announced when we are in a position to do so.”