THE massive £300 million Caltongate development could receive the go-ahead within weeks after planning officials rejected hundreds of objections from residents and heritage bodies.
It emerged today nearly 2000 letters of objection were lodged against the Old Town project, but the council's top planning official, Alan Henderson, has urged councillors to back the proposals at a special meeting in February.
He detailed nearly a dozen benefits for the Capital, and claimed the development would "enhance" the World Heritage Site.
Mr Henderson also backed controversial moves to demolish a number of tenement buildings, and retain only their faade, which he said would "consolidate the fabric of the Canongate".
However, he also called for a series of requirements to be placed on developer Mountgrange, including a detailed CCTV scheme for the area, an assurance that residents would not be disturbed by loud music, a contribution to the tram scheme of around 120,000, and an upgrade of traffic signals on St Mary's Street.
Following the large number of objections, the plans are likely to be referred to Scottish ministers.
Commenting on one of the main development areas – the former bus depot and southern section of New Street – Mr Henderson said: "The development (enhances] Edinburgh's economic competitiveness and contributes to the local housing stock."
The council attracted criticism after allowing Mountgrange to chop up its scheme into sections, which means 12 separate applications will be debated at the meeting on February 6. The 1896 objections covered all the applications, meaning a large number may have been duplicated several times.
Mr Henderson has recommend approval for every aspect of the scheme, which involves a cultural quarter, a five-star hotel and conference centre, office blocks, 200 homes, bars, restaurants and cafs, as well as a new street linking Princes Street to Holyrood.
The plans include the demolition of two listed buildings – the former Sailor's Ark hostel and the Canongate Venture building.
Mr Henderson said this was acceptable, and claimed the Canongate Venture building – a former school built in 1900 – was "not of particular significance".
Mountgrange already has approval in principle for the overall redevelopment, but it still has to get the go-ahead for detailed plans.
Last May, city leader Jenny Dawe branded designs for a landmark building in the development "grotesque and hideous".
The decision-making process is set to last several hours, after the council today revealed that ten separate organisations will make last-ditch pleas to the politicians.
Nick Berry, director of Mountgrange, said: "We are pleased that the planning officers have recommended approval."
The decision to demolish all but the faade of the MacRae tenements on the Royal Mile is likely to be the most contentious issue.
Mountgrange has already withdrawn an application which would have seen the buildings demolished to make way for a "breakthrough" between Waverley Station and the Canongate. Instead, the developers hope to connect a public square to the Canongate through a series of arches.
SOME OF THE REASONS GIVEN FOR BACKING SCHEME
AMONG the benefits listed by Alan Henderson are:
• An increase in the level of affordable housing.
• New community facilities for the area.
• Regeneration of a brown field site.
• New jobs and investment.
• A better link between East Market Street and Canongate and new crossings for the two streets.
• A modern building "which responds to its historic location".
• Contribution to high-quality open space.
• An improved pedestrian environment.
• Retention of the Canongate's tenement frontage.
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