Burning Issue: Does Caltongate's approval show heritage issues aren't important?

Yes JAMES SIMPSON, conservation architect and vice-president of ICOMOS UK, an advisory body to Unesco

THE International Council on Monuments and Sites, which is responsible for monitoring the UK's World Heritage Sites, has been extremely concerned about the decisions taken on the Caltongate development to date.

One of the main issues of concern is that there is no extra protection for World Heritage Sites provided under the current planning system in Scotland.

We hope that will be addressed under the new planning act which is going through the Scottish Parliament at the moment so that World Heritage Sites have specific guidelines for protection over and above other areas.

The main problem with Caltongate is that the decision to demolish two listed buildings has effectively allowed the developer to greatly expand the size and scale of their scheme.

One of the great principles of urban conservation in Edinburgh, dating back to the time of Patrick Geddes, is that any interventions into the existing landscape should be kept as small as possible and not be too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, that is what we feel will happen with the Caltongate development, which we feel is simply not good enough for Edinburgh's World Heritage Site.

We have been living through an era where there has been high development pressure in cities such as Edinburgh and it does seem as if heritage concerns have been neglected.

The city council does seem to have been going for a more competitive approach to development in recent years.

However, our view would be that the balance has swung too far.



chief executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

THERE is no indication that heritage interests are threatened by development. As a city, Edinburgh should welcome a developer offering to invest more than 300 million, create more than 2,000 jobs, and make something useful and inviting of what is currently an eyesore in the heart of one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

As has been well articulated by Historic Scotland, heritage management is about more than preserving old buildings. It's also about balancing economic and social need with the attractiveness and utility of the built environment.

The Caltongate proposals offer housing, including affordable homes, offices and retail, start-up units, and a welcome stretch to Edinburgh's hotel beds and conference space.

In the process it will connect the east end of the city centre and Holyrood, bringing new life to an area where it is most needed. No great heritage buildings are suffering.

Removing two C-listed buildings, the Canongate Venture (an old school and low-cost business premises) and the Old Sailors' Ark (largely under-utilised and scarcely fit for purpose) and replacing them with double the floor area of affordable business premises has been approved by the council after considerable consultation and debate. Ministers' decision to endorse the council's move shows considerable scrutiny and probity has been adhered to.

What developer in their right mind would want to destroy buildings in the city worth preserving, when it is the very quality of the built environment and the society it supports that attracts them here in the first place?

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