AN AMBITIOUS plan to build a 17-storey hotel in Edinburgh city centre has been thrown out by the Scottish Government, after a public inquiry found it would ruin classic views of the city and dominate the Haymarket area.
Campaigners were celebrating last night after ministers ruled that the benefits of the 250 million scheme were not enough to justify the impact on the city's skyline and potential damage to its tourism industry.
Edinburgh city council, which approved plans for the project after just one hearing, was condemned for flouting several of its own policies in backing the scheme by Tiger Developments.
The decision – which would have seen a five-star hotel created along with a budget hotel, new office blocks and shops – was attacked by senior councillors and business leaders for "setting back" efforts to restore the city's economy.
Irish developer Tiger, which had spent three years pursuing the scheme after paying the council more than 40m for the site at Morrison Street, said the government had turned its back on a huge investment, 2,150 jobs and an international hotel presence.
However, campaigners said the demise of the scheme could have been avoided, had the council and the developer compromised over the hotel's height.
Yesterday's decision, by planning and infrastructure minister Stewart Stevenson, was a humiliation for the council.
A gap site which has lain empty for 40 years is now expected to remain derelict for the foreseeable future, despite planning permission being in place for an alternative scheme with a five-storey shopping arcade, offices, cafs and bars.
Sources close to Tiger said it was "highly unlikely" the company would proceed with the development, which it has publicly criticised several times.
The inquiry report stated: "In urban design terms, the hotel building would dominate the townscape of Haymarket and nearby streets. The hotel would rise above the height of the surrounding buildings and impact on key views of St Mary's Cathedral spires and Edinburgh Castle rock. "
Jim Lowrie, the council's planning convener, said: "It's very disappointing the democratic decision of the council has been overturned. It was a bold decision to go for something of this height, but I still feel it was the right decision. We felt a landmark was needed for this site."
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce deputy chief executive Graham Birse said: "This is a huge setback for Edinburgh as a location for major investment and efforts to help the city's economy recover. It sends out the message around the world that Edinburgh wants to remain largely unchanged."
However, Maria Kelly, chairwoman of the Dalry Colonies Residents Association, said: "I'm shocked and surprised at the decision. I didn't imagine the whole scheme would be thrown out. All of this could have been avoided if the council or the developer had listened to people two years ago."
Former judge Lord McCluskey, one of the most vocal opponents of the scheme, said: "This scheme totally ignored the history, character and ethos of Haymarket."
THIRD TIME UNLUCKY FOR FORMER RAILWAY YARD
TO THE thousands of commuters who pass every day, it is a dreary car park.
But for more than a decade the former railway goods yard in Morrison Street has been seen as one of the city's key areas for future regeneration.
It was a contender to become home to the Scottish Parliament building, finally losing out to Holyrood despite a high-profile campaign by supporters.
And the city council's development wing, EDI, spent years pursuing a scheme which would have seen new offices blocks and a shopping arcade created on the site.
Although the plans were rejected by councillors, the decision was overturned by the then Scottish Executive on appeal. However, the council then decided to sell the site to help fund a huge equal-pay settlement to its own staff.
Tiger snapped up the site – with the condition that the council would receive the money regardless of whether a new scheme was approved.