Edinburgh Festival chief’s dismay over ‘sickening’ legal bid to stop concert hall

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Organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival have accused the developers of a hotel and shopping centre of adopting “sickening, disgusting” tactics to try to thwart its new venue.

Director Fergus Linehan said American property giant Nuveen Real Estate, which is spearheading the Edinburgh St James scheme, was “playing fast and loose” with the city.

New designs for IMPACT Scotland new concert hall in St Andrew Square,

New designs for IMPACT Scotland new concert hall in St Andrew Square,

He accused the firm of trying to “crush a cultural facility designed for everyone in our city” by mounting a legal challenge against the £45 million concert hall off St Andrew Square.

Nuveen, formed in 1898 and based in New York, is seeking a judicial review of a decision to approve planning permission for the 1,000-seat Dunard Centre in April.

Bankrolled by American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor, it has £25m worth of support from the UK and Westminster governments and the city council.

Impact Scotland, the charitable trust behind the venture, which was set to create a year-round home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra by 2023, has described the legal move as “extremely disappointing”.

Mr Linehan said: “The festival is very important, but it’s critical Edinburgh has great year-round infrastructure.

“That a multinational property conglomerate should seek to crush a cultural facility designed for everyone in our city is sickening.

“A really interesting question is who these developers actually are? Is it people sitting at a computer in the United States looking at numbers? Who are we talking to here? It’s like grabbing smoke.

“The idea that financiers are trying to crush this project without even trying to engage with anyone in the city is just disgusting. There just seems to be no consideration of what Edinburgh needs, which is better infrastructure spread across the city that is available 12 months of the year.

“This just feels like a tactic to bury the concert hall in legals forever without any consequences. It is playing fast and loose with the city you are trying to work in.”

SCO chief executive Gavin Reid said: “It is frustrating, to say the least, that the St James’ hotel investors and developers should wish to stand in the way of the Dunard Centre.

“For the SCO, like so many vital and innovative contemporary arts organisations, our commitment to ever-increasing community engagement and social impact sits right alongside the desire to create unforgettable and transformational experiences for as many people as possible.

“It is an absolute mystery to us why our neighbours would not wish for the same, not to mention the likely positive impact it will have on their future business.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “The creation of the concert hall will provide an excellent new venue and home for the SCO and will be another exciting development on St Andrew Square.”

A spokeswoman for Nuveen Real Estate said 14 people were working on the Edinburgh St James project, eight of whom were based in the city full-time.

She added: “We have consulted with the council and stakeholders throughout this process.”