I love a row, says Edinburgh's new heritage champion

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THE new head of Edinburgh's main heritage watchdog has started her tenure with an attack on two of the capital's most controversial developments and a declaration: "I love arguments."

Marion Williams has taken over the Cockburn Association with a vow to take on critics and mount campaigns against "out of place" developments.

Ms Williams, 53, has vowed to raise the profile of the organisation, which dates back to 1875, by protecting local communities against inappropriate developments and resisting efforts to dramatically alter classic views.

Ms Williams has become the fourth director of the Cockburn Association in ten years.

She said she had moved from near the site of the proposed Caltongate development in Edinburgh's Old Town because she disliked the plans and was opposed to buildings that would have blocked views of Calton Hill from Jeffrey Street.

She also said she had been surprised that a 17-storey hotel had been approved for Haymarket before being rejected by the government, and warned approving such developments would set a dangerous precedent.

Ms Williams said: "I did move away from Jeffrey Street when I saw the plans for Caltongate. My whole view would have changed to a glass wall. I had already wondered why the new council headquarters had been allowed to be built there as it didn't fit in with the area. The whole plans for Caltongate just didn't seem right.

"The Haymarket hotel was certainly saying something, but I wasn't sure what. It would have created a very substantial tower block which, like in Jeffrey Street, would have set a dangerous precedent. It's very difficult to argue against future tall buildings when you've allowed one."

Ms Williams, who spent five years working for MP Stephen Byers, was previously a Sussex councillor and headed the local planning committee. Her last job was development manager with the OneCity Trust, a charity set up by Edinburgh council to tackle social exclusion.

She said: "I see this job as a coming together of a lot of different areas I have been involved in, including heritage, culture, campaigning and the environment.

"I don't see the Cockburn's role as simply being there to say no to things. However, Edinburgh's environment and heritage is what makes it so attractive. It is important that it is properly protected.

"We want to ensure developers are fully aware of the city's history and heritage and how it can be enhanced rather than put at it risk. I want to ensure there is an open forum for debate in the city. It's not just about what architects and developers think.

"It's important for me to have a profile and stick my head above the parapet. I love having an argument. I won't be intimidated by anyone who doesn't agree with us, but I also feel I can talk to anybody. We have a role to play in bringing people together.

"We want to ensure that developers come to us at an early stage in their planning. Far too often, the first people know about a major development is when it comes before a planning committee."