Debatable listings 'will stop us building for city's future'

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IT is supposed to be the guardian of Scotland's most precious historic gems, protecting them from irresponsible and overzealous development.

Yet Historic Scotland has been accused of "casting a shadow" over the future of Edinburgh by granting protected status to buildings that don't deserve it.

One member of Edinburgh's influential council planning committee today hit out at the Government watchdog, saying it threatens the regeneration of the Capital.

Councillor Cameron Rose, a retired police inspector who represents the Southside and Newington, questioned the A-listed status handed to the Royal Commonwealth Pool (RCP).

He also pointed to the Caltongate project, where two C-listed buildings – the Sailors' Ark and former Canongate Venture school – within the Old Town site threatened to curtail the 300 million development.

A quick trawl through the list of the 4500 protected buildings in the Capital produces plenty of examples that may raise eyebrows, including Gilmerton's Mechanic Arms pub, The Crags bar on Dalkeith Road and a former stationery warehouse in Sighthill Industrial Estate.

The Capital has more listed properties than any other similar sized area of Britain. Anyone who wants to demolish, extend or make even minor alterations to a listed building must receive special permission to do so.

Cllr Rose said: "A lot of what Historic Scotland does is very good, but a number of buildings seem to be listed simply 'because we can', rather than because they are valuable.

"One could very legitimately ask the question why the RCP is A-listed. It's debatable whether it has (historic] significance. Regarding the Canongate Venture, one has to ask whether (its status] was worth it in the context of creating a new living community. Caltongate could have fallen over that issue.

"There needs to be a legislative look at Historic Scotland in relation to listings."

A Historic Scotland spokeswoman said: "We are certain that the Royal Commonwealth Pool is fully deserving of its category A-listing.

"Listing helps ensure that decisions about proposed change can be made on the basis of a full understanding of a building's merit. As was the case with the Caltongate development, where having carefully considered the case Historic Scotland did not object to the proposed demolition of the Canongate Venture building."

She added: "Cllr Rose's comments are extremely surprising – and do not, we suspect, represent the views of the council or its administration – as we explained to him last month that Historic Scotland assesses the architectural and historic merit of all historic buildings, against published criteria."

City planning leader, councillor Jim Lowrie, said: "The right balance between old and new is important. I think that Historic Scotland takes a realistic approach, helping to ensure high standards but supporting development where appropriate.

"In Edinburgh we do have a challenge because of how many listed buildings there are, and that means taking longer and greater care in processing planning applications, but overall they definitely enrich the city."