Caltongate back to the future with 'Scottish identity' built in

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RADICAL new proposals for the Caltongate site have been drawn up by a Scottish architect in a bid to persuade potential buyers to rip up the existing plans.

• New Caltongate plans include reintroducing arched arcades and a variety of building materials and colours

Anta Architecture wants to persuade any buyers to build a much stronger "Scottish identity" into the plans for the gap site.

The firm claims that the designs for the original Mountgrange scheme, masterminded by Allan Murray, looked too similar to many modern schemes and were "monolithic".

Instead, Anta is proposing that dramatic arched arcades – similar to those on the Cowgate – are reintroduced into the Old Town. A diverse range of building materials and colours is also proposed.

It has sent its vision for the former New Street goods yard to some of the development firms thought to be sizing up bids for the site, including British Land, Allied London and Grosvenor.

The firm hopes that its vision for the site can help influence what happens next.

Lachie Stewart, founder of Anta Architecture, said his plans were much more suited to the area around Caltongate, off the Royal Mile. He said: "It is about reducing the whole scale into something much less monolithic and re-establishing the old urban blocks off the Royal Mile.

"The original design is all big brush strokes; it is far too much like the council offices at Waverley Court.

"We've sent our proposals to some of the bidders. They are all interested and say it is worth starting a public dialogue."

Caltongate is still currently in the control of Deloitte, Mountgrange's administrator, and it is thought that a preferred bidder could be confirmed within weeks. However, it is not yet known whether they will want to carry forward the approved plans or introduce a new design.

Anta's alternative vision for the development still includes the business space, offices, hotel and residential elements that were in the original proposals.

It is designed in blocks, so that any developer could take it forward in stages, which may prove attractive in the current climate.

The architecture is designed to be "distinctively Scottish" and Mr Stewart said colour was used as "a weapon" on the site.

Although he admitted developers may not be willing to take forward his plans, he said: "It is dangling a fly in the water and starting a debate on what people actually want in Edinburgh. Do they want more of the same thing or do they want something with more of a Scottish flavour?"

Proposals to change the plans for the site have been welcomed by local residents. Bruce Borthwick, a former member of the Old Town Community Council and now chair of the Holyrood Mews Owners Association, said: "I had very few fundamental problems with the original planning consent; it was how you finished the buildings that was the issue.

"The mix was good, some of the architecture was good but some could have been more sympathetic and I pushed for that to be changed."

Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "It is vital that the site does not lie in disrepair, as it currently does. We are a year down the line in a recession and any developer will have to be sure the business case stacks up.

"I'd welcome any new proposals, so long as they do not deviate too significantly from the original proposal because that has planning consent so it would make it a much more lengthy process to move away from that."