‘Brutalist’ Edinburgh building demolition blocked

CONTROVERSIAL plans to knock down a modernist landmark have been suspended, amid substantial opposition from heritage groups and warnings that such action could erode protection for other listed buildings.
The Scottish Provident Building on St Andrew Square. Picture: TSPLThe Scottish Provident Building on St Andrew Square. Picture: TSPL
The Scottish Provident Building on St Andrew Square. Picture: TSPL

The Scottish Provident building in central Edinburgh was to be partly demolished, along with much of the south side of St Andrew Square as part of a major redevelopment project.

As The Scotsman reported on Tuesday, Historic Scotland and the Cockburn Association civic trust opposed the move, with the latter accusing officials of attempting to unduly aid developers by not insisting on the necessary listed building checks.

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Members of the Edinburgh City Council planning committee suspended approval for demolition, which had originally been backed by its own officials. The committee said that proper listed-building checks, known as the Shep (Scottish Historic Environment Policy) test, to determine if a listed building could be knocked down, would have to be carried out, but said that it was already clear the nature of the work would be likely to lead to the destruction of the B-listed structure.

Planned changes include removing the front of the 1969 building and tearing down the inside before rebuilding and replacing the facade.

Edinburgh developers Stockland intend to create a retail, residential and office complex in place of the three empty buildings on St Andrew Square.

Sandy Howat, the city’s deputy planning leader, was highly critical of the council’s own officials. “In the 16 months of sitting on this committee, this is the most appalling report I’ve read,” he said, referring to attempts by

officials to avoid carrying out the listed-building tests.

“Historic Scotland raised concerns about the viability of actually taking this [front facade] down and putting it back without damaging it. In addition, I don’t see this being listed anymore if you take parts of the building away.”

He added: “I totally support what the developer is trying to achieve here – We all want to see that space being used again. However, the Shep test must be carried out.”

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Councillors said they would revisit the plans at a later date.

The Cockburn Association, which scrutinises planning in the capital, has referred planning officials to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

It claims that local authority staff have become too “pro-

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development” and too willing to help building firms to get applications through.

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “If you list a building and then local authority planning officials give out the impression that you can get around the necessary checks and demolish it, then every listed building becomes at risk. There may be debate over whether a structure should be listed or not at the time, but once it is, you have to uphold that or we could lose some of our most treasured buildings.”

Although the “Brutalist” design of the B-listed building has divided opinion for some years, it is highly regarded among heritage groups and architects as one of the finest designs of its era.

Malcolm Fraser, a leading Scots architect who had opposed the demolition, welcomed the


“Credit to the committee for not allowing this important building to be demolished by stealth and planning bungle,” he told The Scotsman.