Caltongate will ‘tear apart fabric of Edinburgh’

A STRING of leading Scottish authors have launched a campaign to halt a controversial development in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

An artist's impression of the Caltongate development in Edinburgh's Old town. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the Caltongate development in Edinburgh's Old town. Picture: Contributed

Irvine Welsh, AL Kennedy, Alexander McCall Smith, Candia McWilliam and Janice Galloway are among the writers to put their names to a letter describing the Caltongate scheme as a “massive stale, sterile modernist confection of concrete.”

They have warned that the scheme - which would see budget hotels, office blocks, shops and 180 homes built on a gap site near Waverley Station - will “tear apart the fabric of this great city.”

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And it has accused South African real estate firm Artisan of being motivated “entirely by short-term financial gain”, with plans which are “completely at odds” with their surroundings.

The letter, published in The Scotsman, has also been signed by artist John Byrne, poet Don Paterson, architect James Simpson and sculptor Alexander Stoddart and singles out Edinburgh City Council’s planning department for criticism.

It emerged just hours after The Scotsman reported claims from an Edinburgh University academic that modern buildings in the city were regarded as “a trauma on a par with the Second World War”.

Richard Williams, professor of contemporary visual cultures, described the New Town as the “high watermark” of architectural achievement in the capital, and said almost everything built since then had been “clouded by a sense of failure or worse.” He described Caltongate as “another “architectural embarrassment in the making.

The new letter has been circulated by Birlinn, publishers of McCall Smith, who urged councillors to reject the £150 million Caltongate scheme in January, warning that it threatened to “destroy the very thing that brings people from all over the world to Edinburgh.”

The protest letter states: “Two hundred years ago the legacy of our ancestors was the New Town of Edinburgh. Unless something is done urgently today’s legacy will be Caltongate. How will our descendants 200 years hence judge us if it goes ahead?

“Government bodies such as Historic Scotland have said nothing. Edinburgh World Heritage has been silenced by council pressure. It is now up to the people of Edinburgh and their supporters to take the lead.

“The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh are a cityscape of international importance. Not only are they one of the jewels of Scotland and Europe but the tourism they generate produces millions of pounds and sustains thousands of jobs. It seems unthinkable that this legacy should be under threat.”

More than 2000 people have already signed an online petition saying they have “no confidence” in Edinburgh’s planning chiefs in the wake of the green light being given for the Caltongate scheme.

Artisan claims it will deliver 2000 jobs and an “exceptional” development on “one of the most challenging city centre developments anywhere in the UK.”

A spokesman for Artisan said: “Our planning consents followed more than 18-months of in-depth consultation with local communities and stakeholders. We have listened to, and taken on board, a huge variety of views and opinions on the development of the site, and heard impassioned arguments relating to its unique importance, setting, heritage and community.

“This consultation process has led to many facets of the area’s unique Old Town setting being retained to preserve the character of the development, including the retention of the Canongate Venture building and the façade of the Old Sailor’s Ark.

“We feel our proposals reflect this varied, dynamic and open consultation process and we feel we now have a proposal which shows a genuine understanding of the area’s celebrated community and civic context.

“Artisan will now bring international capital investment of £150 million to the table, coupled with the vision and commitment needed to complete what has already been started. We now have the opportunity to create, in the very heart of Edinburgh, one of Europe’s most exciting and vibrant mixed-use communities which will set an international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development.”