NEW city council leader Jenny Dawe today branded designs for a landmark building in the Caltongate development "grotesque and hideous", raising further questions about the future of the £300 million project.
The Liberal Democrat suggested the designs drawn up by one of Scotland's leading architects, Malcolm Fraser, for the Old Town site were completely out of keeping with the area.
The modern-looking building - up to six storeys high - would house shops, offices, a restaurant with a terrace cafe, and a bar or nightclub, opposite the new council headquarters on Market Street. The city leader's opposition is the strongest sign yet that the developers are likely to face redrawing large parts of their plans.
Cllr Dawe said: "I'm not anti-development at all. However, I do believe that any development must respect the heritage of the city. Malcolm Fraser is a very well known and respected architect and I was astounded to discover he was behind those images which appeared in the Evening News last week. The images were just grotesque and hideous.
"I would've expected someone of his reputation to produce something a bit more sympathetic to its surroundings, but they were pretty gross."
Cllr Dawe also raised concerns about the approach of developers Mountgrange, who are bringing a series of detailed plans to the council, covering separate parts of the development. Other parts of the project include proposals for 200 homes, a five-star hotel and a new public square.
"I don't like the way that the developers of the Caltongate scheme have decided to chop it up into small bits rather than take forward one big masterplan," she said.
Mr Fraser has won a string of awards for major projects including the Dance Base complex in the Grassmarket. He said his designs would repair "19th-century vandalism", when part of a historic route between the Royal Mile and the top of Leith Walk was demolished to form Jeffrey Street.
Mountgrange spokesman Mark Cummings said: "We have written to each of the new group leaders offering them a presentation on our detailed proposals."
Concerns have been raised that the proposed building would block some views down the Waverley Valley from both Jeffrey Street and Market Street.
Cllr Dawe has come under fire from Labour councillors after ensuring Liberal Democrat and SNP councillors formed the majority of member of the new planning committee.
While she has insisted Lib Dems will not be ordered to follow a party line on planning matters, her comments are thought likely to influence councillors.
Julie Logan, spokeswoman for the Save Our Old Town protest group, said: "It's a nonsense to say Jeffrey Street is incomplete, it's been deliberately left open like that, and there's nothing at all wrong with the way it looks."
The city's Labour leader, Councillor Ewan Aitken, said: "I don't want to comment on any images without seeing the fine detail of what is proposed.
"But it seems sensible to me for a developer to take things piece by piece with a very large scheme rather than try to push the whole thing through.
"The Caltongate scheme would appear to offer a major opportunity to regenerate this part of the Old Town."
• A public meeting is to be held to discuss the latest plans for the Caltongate development.
Details of the latest planning applications submitted by developer Mountgrange will be put on display at the Old Town Community Council's event.
The Augustine United Church, on George IV Bridge, is playing host to the meeting on Thursday, at 6.15pm.