HERITAGE groups and architects have objected to the partial demolition of a modernist landmark over fears it could pave the way for the future loss of listed buildings.
Historic Scotland and the Cockburn Association civic trust have protested against the redevelopment of the former Scottish Provident building on Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square.
Malcolm Fraser, one of Scotland’s foremost architects, described the redevelopment style as “scrapbook-facadism” which is “universally derided, trashing and traducing our heritage for no benefit”.
The Cockburn Association said it has referred city council officials to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over their handling of the planning application.
It claimed that the local
authority has become too “pro-development” and that despite the substantial nature of the works, officials had not considered it as a “demolition” in order to avoid the proper checks being carried out.
The B-listed structure was completed in 1969 and used by the financial services firm until 2004. It has been unoccupied since and fallen into a state of some disrepair.
Stockland, an Edinburgh redevelopment firm, has applied to remove the front facade of the building to allow it to rebuild the structure inside, before replacing the frontage once finished.
Edinburgh City Council planners have previously approved the demolition of the existing listed buildings either side of 6-7 St Andrew Square and now backs plans for the third building. Councillors will be asked
to approve the decision at the City Chambers tomorrow [WED].
The new development across the three buildings would amount to 25 per cent retail space, 70 per cent office and 5 per cent residential, with seven apartments overlooking St Andrew Square.
If approved, Stockland would begin construction around Christmas this year, intending to complete the development by late 2015.
Ian Thomson, senior heritage management officer at Historic Scotland, warned that the demolition was “problematic in conservation terms” for the city centre.
“The extent of down-taking and rebuilding proposed, in our view, would be substantial demolition, rather than alteration of the building,” he wrote in his objection.
“The resulting works would essentially be a new building, with the integrity of the building being much diminished, appearing almost as screen decoration for the new-build element behind. This is problematic in conservation terms.”
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, claimed that Edinburgh City Council has adopted a “presumption towards development” at the risk of the city’s fabric.
“It’s hard to understand why someone would list a building and then allow it to be demolished”, she told The Scotsman.
“If you take the new Apple store opposite the Balmoral as an example, it has been listed for decades but given permission for minor amendments.
“As is clear to anyone who has passed recently the entire building has been demolished except for the frontage and now the city planners have said the damage is such that it is no longer listable.
“If you can demolish two buildings in Edinburgh city centre then that places the entire system under question and has far wider implications.”
She added: “This puts the whole listed building scheme under question. There is now a presumption towards development which overrides all other concerns and which is totally unacceptable.”
Stockland has owned the three buildings on St Andrew Square for five years but said it had been unable to attract occupiers due to the outdated nature of the structures.
Ken Lindsay, director at the firm, said the project would allow that side of the square to be “brought back to economic use”.
“We bought the Scottish Provident building five years ago and have been trying to attract occupiers but it has put off potential occupiers due to the poor floor to ceiling height among other issues”, he told The Scotsman.
“We believe that we are delivering a good solution for what is an unused building and bringing it back to economic use.”
The Scottish Provident building was designed by William G Leslie of firm Rowand Anderson, Kinimonth & Paul. It is highly regarded as a fine example of “Brutalist” architecture among some conservationists.
An Edinburgh City Council spokesman told The Scotsman: “In our view the application does not propose to demolish the building.
“The floor space behind the facade will be reconfigured. The facade will be taken down and then rebuilt to allow the work to go ahead. We are satisfied that no other consents are required in this case.”