AFTER years of wrangling over major developments in the historic heart of Edinburgh, relations between developers, heritage watchdogs, business organisations and the capital's planners would appear to have reached a new low.
A new five-star hotel for the city, proposed for a long-standing gap site next to Haymarket railway station, has become the latest scheme to hit the buffers – with mounting concern over how the city will attract such investments in future.
Backers of the 250 million scheme – focussed on a 17-storey tower, which would have been visible from viewpoints around the city – believe the capital could now stagnate. The Scottish Government ruled the building would "dominate" the area and ruin classic views of the capital.
Opponents insist the development, designed by award-winning Edinburgh architect Richard Murphy, was simply out of keeping with the area and should never have got off the starting blocks.
Experts are sharply divided over the implications for the city, which has struggled to encourage new developments along Princes Street in recent years and seen the demise of the controversial Caltongate development next to Waverley Station after the developer went into administration. There were also claims the project was delayed by prolonged rows with heritage groups and local campaigners.
While some fear the city is consigned to a lengthy period of stagnation or bland developments, more optimistic voices insist that conservation and heritage interests can be married with bold design and architecture. However, with the new Missoni hotel development on George IV Bridge already attracting criticism, further storm clouds are looming on the horizon over the prospect of wide-scale development along Princes Street.
The Haymarket scheme would have seen a five-star hotel created along with a budget hotel, new office blocks, and cafs, bars and shops on a huge site off Morrison Street. More than 2,100 jobs were also promised.
But it had been fiercely opposed by the city's main heritage bodies and leading critics such as former judge Lord McCluskey, who famously branded it a "vulgar, tasteless, ugly cliff".
The Irish developer behind the venture, Tiger, will be asked by the city council to bring back fresh plans – the council is desperate to avoid the site lying empty in the long term while the city's property market is in decline. The site – a former railway goods yard – has already been lying empty for more than 40 years.
Mr Murphy is also expected to meet the developers within days to discuss a possible way forward – despite Tiger spending some three years working on the scheme which has just been rejected and insisting the 17-storey tower was the only way to make a hotel, for the InterContinental chain, viable on the site.
Jim Lowrie, planning convener on the city council, said: "We are going to go back to Tiger and ask them to come up with new proposals. We do still want to see a five-star hotel on this site and it is a key gateway into the city centre."
Peter Wilson is a lecturer in architecture at Edinburgh's Napier University
MODERN cities do not sell themselves on being the same as everywhere else: distinctiveness is everything, else why do we bother to travel to other places?
More than its festivals, Edinburgh's unique international selling point is its urban form – but instead of intensifying its finest qualities with new architecture of the highest order the city council has too often in recent years permitted projects of mind-numbing mediocrity. Not only has this damaged the visual image of Edinburgh but it has, arguably, also produced a smaller contribution to the city's economic vitality than is widely purported.
Bob Cairns is a former convener of Edinburgh's planning committee
IN EDINBURGH there will always be tension between the need to conserve our built heritage and the demands of what is still a major commercial centre. However, as the Haymarket inquiry reporter makes clear, massive development has taken place in the financial district and elsewhere without compromising the integrity of the World Heritage site, although opinions can and should differ on the merits of individual designs.
The essential requirement is there should be a clear, indeed rigid, idea of the grain and scale of the city, but considerable leeway within these strictly enforced limits.
Euan Leitch is a spokesman for the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland
THE decision by the Scottish Government to refuse consent does not reflect an anti-development lobby within Edinburgh or the Scottish Government, but does highlight a weakness in the city's tall building policy. The exceptional quality of the city skyline with its ethereal collection of towers, spires and monuments means any proposed addition is going to be subject to controversy.
Developers desire a planning system that gives a clear indication of outcome and creating a zone where tall buildings would be permitted rather than eternally debating their appropriateness could be a more positive approach.
John Glenday is a writer with the architectural magazine Prospect
TO TURN down the Haymarket development in the current climate is like looking a gift horse in the mouth. The danger is that companies like Tiger and InterContinental will simply take their investment elsewhere, particularly to Glasgow, where there are not so many heritage concerns.
The problem with Edinburgh is that a lot of its best architecture dates back more than 100 years. You really haven't seen that many quality new developments coming forward. But if the city doesn't embrace new developments it simply becomes a backcloth for tourists. Edinburgh is a living, breathing, working city. Its architecture has to reflect that.
James Simpson is an Edinburgh-based conservation architect
THERE is room for change and modern development in Edinburgh, but it has to be handled sensitively. I hope the message this decision sends out is that the values of the World Heritage site must be respected by developers.
There must be proper strategic thinking over major development sites so that new buildings do not have the kind of impact that the Haymarket development would have done.
Conservation is not about being anti-creative, it is really about managing that change. There is plenty scope for change on Princes Street, for example, but you would simply not want to change large parts of the Old Town.
Jim Lowrie is the current convener of planning at theCity of Edinburgh Council
WE WERE very disappointed that the planning committee's decision on Haymarket was overturned, but I don't think we have anything to apologise for. We did consult properly and spent a lot of time listening to people in the area.
The main issue for the city is that the inquiry report felt that the height of the building would have too much of an impact on some of the views. We had a similar issue over a tall building proposed for the St James Centre. With that development, we spoke to heritage bodies, and when people were pretty much against it, the developers changed their minds.
Malcolm Fraser is the architect behind developments including the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Dance Base
IF WE could channel some of the energy that goes into fighting each other over development in Edinburgh into creating wonderful buildings, we could add to the city in an inspirational way rather than being left with gap sites and new anodyne buildings.
There is something wrong when one of our most talented architects can't get to build something ambitious in Edinburgh, but I have to weigh that against my concern that it was too big. We have to find a way forward between the anodyne and the hubristic.